Relevant decisions from other jurisdictions

Hunter Valley Developments Pty Ltd v Cohen (1984) 3 FCR 344

This case involved a review of several decisions of the Federal Court of Australia (FCA) where the discretion to extend time under section 11 of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1997 (Cth) had been exercised. Wilcox J distilled the key considerations into six guiding principles:19

1. Although the section does not, in terms, place any onus of proof upon an applicant for extension an application has to be made. Special circumstances need not be shown but the court will not grant the application unless positively satisfied that it is proper so to do. The "prescribed period" of twenty-eight days is not to be ignored (Ralkon Agricultural Co. Pty Ltd v. Aboriginal Development Commission (1982) 43 A.L.R. 535 at 550). Indeed, it is the prima facie rule that proceedings commenced outside that period will not be entertained (Lucie v. Nolan (1982) 45 A.L.R. 411 at 416). It is a pre-condition to the exercise of discretion in his favour that the applicant for extension show an "acceptable explanation of the delay" and that it is "fair and equitable in the circumstances" to extend time (Duff at 485; Chapman v. Reilly unreported (Federal Court of Australia, Neaves J., 9 December 1983) at 7).

2. Action taken by the applicant, other than by making an application for review under the Act, is relevant to the consideration of the question whether an acceptable explanation for the delay has been furnished. A distinction is to be made between the case of a person who, by non-curial means, has continued to make the decision-maker aware that he contests the finality of the decision (who has not "rested on his rights": per Fisher J in Doyle v Chief of Staff (1982) 42 A.L.R. 283 at 287) and a case where the decision-maker was allowed to believe that the matter was finally concluded. Compare Doyle, Chapman, Ralkon and Douglas v. Allen (1984) I F.C.R. 287 with Lucic at 414-415 and Hickey v. Australian Telecommunications Commission (1983) 48 A.L.R. 517 at 519. The reasons for this distinction are not only the "need for finality in disputes" (see Lucic at 410) but also the "fading from memory" problem referred to in Wedesweiller v. Cole (1983) 47 A.L.R. 528.

3. Any prejudice to the respondent including any prejudice in defending the proceedings occasioned by the delay is a material factor militating against the grant of an extension: see Doyle at 287, Duffat 484-485, Hickey at 525-527 and Wedesweiller at 533-534.

4. However, the mere absence of prejudice is not enough to justify the grant of an extension: Douglas, Lucic at 416, Hickey at 523. In this context, public considerations often intrude (Lucic, Hickey). A delay which may result, if the application is successful, in the unsettling of other people (Ralkon at 550, Becerra at 12-13) or of established practices (Douglas) is likely to prove fatal to the application.

5. The merits of the substantial application are properly to be taken into account in considering whether an extension of time should be granted: Lucic at 417, Chapman at 6.

6. Considerations of fairness as between the applicants and other persons otherwise in a like position are relevant to the manner of exercise of the court's discretion: Wedesweiller at 534-535. In considering the authorities it is, I believe, important to bear in mind the point made by Sheppard J. in Wedesweiller at 531, relating to the diversity of decisions to which review may be sought under the Act: " ... there will be some cases which may be decided upon considerations which affect only the immediate parties. It will be appropriate to consider whether the delay which has taken place has been satisfactorily explained, the prejudice which may be caused to an applicant by the refusal of an application, the prejudice which may be suffered by the Government or a particular department if the application is granted and, generally, what the justice of the case requires. In other cases wider considerations will be involved." He went on to mention the reference to public interest made by Fitzgerald J. in Lucic at 416. It is in relation to the former category of cases, that is, those "which affect only the immediate parties" that the approach adopted by Bray C.J. in Lovatt v. Le Gall (1975) 10 S.A.S.R. 479 at 485 in respect of private litigation but adopted in this context in both Doyle at 287 and Duff at 485, is apposite namely:

If the defendant has suffered no prejudice, as when he was well within the limitation period of the plaintiff's claim, or where the excess period of time is small, or where he cannot show that he has lost anything by reason of the delay, it may well be that the court will not find it difficult to come to the conclusion.

These guiding principles have proven influential in subsequent FCA decisions and in other Australian courts exercising a comparable discretion, including Supreme Court of Queensland, Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Victorian Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

19Hunter Valley Developments Pty Ltd v Cohen (1984) 3 FCR 344, at pages [17]-[23]. [up]

Last updated: March 1, 2012