News: The High Court takes on seven new cases

Friday’s special leave hearings marked Hayne J’s final sitting as a judge, ending his seventeen year run on the High Court bench. The Melbourne hearings where Hayne J sat only granted leave in three matters (two closely linked), while the simultaneous Sydney hearings added a further four. The cases the High Court will eventually hear appeals from are:

  • Beckett v R [2014] NSWCCA 305, an appeal by a solicitor who was found to have made false statements on oath to officers of the NSW revenue office about her use of the state’s electronic stamp duty system. The High Court will determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeal was correct in quashing her conviction for perverting the course of justice on the basis that her false statements preceded the invoking of a court’s jurisdiction. (In the same hearing, the Court refused leave to the solicitor to appeal her remaining conviction for making those false statements, after the Court of Criminal Appeal held that the fact that they were compelled from her was no barrier to her conviction.)
  •  Commissioner of Taxation v Macoun [2014] FCAFC 162, where the federal tax office succeeded in its argument that Australian legislation conferring an immunity from income tax on officers of certain international organisations did not cover pensions paid to retirees from those organisations. In a concurring judgment, Perram J noted that the Full Court of the Federal Court’s reading of the statute is contrary to the requirements of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
  • Mount Bruce Mining Pty Ltd v Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd (No 2) [2014] NSWCA 425, part of a dispute between participants in the sale of a Pilbara mining region over the meaning of a clause governing the payment of royalties. The NSW Court of Appeal issued a split ruling favouring the appellant on one part of the region and the respondent on another.The decision listed by the High Court registry as the one where special leave is sought is a subsequent ruling on the timing and rate of interest payable on post-appeal payments between the parties, and the question of who should pay the costs in the initial trial and the appeal.
  • Pham v The Queen [2014] VSCA 204, an appeal concerning an inconsistency between Victorian and other Australian courts over sentencing for federal drug trafficking offences. Victoria’s Court of Appeal, accepting that the eight year sentence the defendant received for trafficking half a kilo of heroin fell within the range of Australian decisions on such offending, but was harsher than the usual range in Victorian courts, revised the defendant’s sentence to six years. President Maxwell observed that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions could have, but didn’t, submit that Victorian sentencing practices for drug trafficking were inadequate.
  • State of Victoria v Tatts Group Ltd [2014] VSCA 311 and State of Victoria v Tabcorp Holdings Ltd [2014] VSCA 312, respective claims for over a billion dollars of compensation by the former holders of Victoria’s poker machine duopoly. The Court of Appeal (including now High Court judge Nettle J) held that a statutory provision requiring compensation for the duopoly if their licences were given to others did not apply to the 2008 restructure of the industry (where new forms of poker machine licences were awarded to gaming venues), a result the Court observed ‘might do little to enhance the State’s reputation for reliability and commercial morality in its dealings’. Tatts  nevertheless succeeded in a contractual claim for $500 million based on a formal agreement with the Minister for Gaming, while Tabcorp failed its contractual claim based on an inferred promise to act in good faith founded in part on a Treasurer’s letter.
  • Zabic v Alcan Gove Pty Ltd [2015] NTCA 2, concerning the timing of a cause of action for mesothelioma, which would determine whether the plaintiff’s claim is governed by the common law or a reform statute. The Northern Territory’s Court of Appeal held the cause of action arose when asbestos fibres damaged his mesothilial cells (at a time when the common law applied) rather than when the cells became malignant (at a time when the statute applied.)
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About Jeremy Gans

Jeremy Gans is a Professor in Melbourne Law School, where he researches and teaches across all aspects of the criminal justice system. He holds higher degrees in both law and criminology. In 2007, he was appointed as the Human Rights Adviser to the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.