Cannon and The Magistrates Court
(2003 F0368, 11 June 2004)
This was a preliminary decision solely on the issue of whether or not I had jurisdiction to review the respondent's refusal to give the applicant access to documents requested by the applicant under the FOI Act.
The applicant sought access to a letter of complaint written to the former Chief Magistrate by the applicant's former wife, complaining about the conduct of a Magistrate who had presided at a preliminary hearing of a dispute involving the applicant and his former wife. The applicant also sought access to the Chief Magistrate's letter in response to the letter of complaint. The Magistrates Court refused access to the letters on the basis that the letters were excluded from the application of the FOI Act by s.11(1)(e) of the FOI Act.
I held that, despite the unclear wording used in the relevant sections of the FOI Act, Parliament's intention in enacting s.11(1)(e) and s.11(2) of the FOI Act was that a court, or the holder of a judicial office or other office connected with a court, should not be subject to the obligations imposed on agencies by the FOI Act in respect of documents received or brought into existence in performing the judicial functions of the court, or of the holder of a judicial office or other office connected with a court.
After analysing relevant case law about the difference between judicial functions and administrative functions, I decided that, in receiving the letter of complaint and responding to it, the former Chief Magistrate was performing an administrative function, not a judicial function. The requested documents were therefore not excluded from the application of the FOI Act by s.11(1)(e), and I had jurisdiction under Part 5 of the FOI Act to review the respondent's refusal of access to the requested documents.