Yesterday, the Queensland Supreme Court decided that the Land Court does not have the power to require disclosure under Chapter 7 of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (Qld) (UCPR) in hearing applications and objections referred to it under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) (MRA) and theEnvironmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act).
It also decided that the Land Court’s ruling to require this disclosure was a reviewable decision under theJudicial Review Act 1991 (Qld), and should be set aside.
This is an important decision for proponents, as it clarifies that the Land Court is limited to considering materials forming part of applications referred to it under the relevant resources legislation. This means that proponents can confidently manage cases in a focused and efficient way, without the risk of becoming involved in long and protracted disclosure battles.
The decision arose from an application made by BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal Pty Ltd under the MRA and the EP Act for additional surface area for a mining lease, which was objected to by the respondent landholders. In the course of hearing those applications and objections, the Land Court ruled that BHP was required to disclose documents under Chapter 7 of the UCPR. BHP objected to this ruling.
The Land Court cannot require disclosure under Chapter 7 of the UCPR
The Court held that Chapter 7 of the UCPR does not apply to the hearing of applications and objections referred to the Land Court. This is because the relevant court rules allow the Land Court to apply the UCPR in relation to a “proceeding”, but this hearing could not be considered a “proceeding” in the Land Court.
The following points were given as reasons for the view that the Land Court hearing is not a “proceeding” to which Chapter 7 of the UCPR should apply:
- The MRA and EP Act each provide a process for applying for additional surface area, and for objections to be referred to the Land Court for a recommendation. The Land Court does not make the final determination whether or not to grant the application.
- Provisions in the Land Court Rules which relate to starting a “proceeding” and provide content and other requirements for originating processes are difficult to reconcile with the view that the hearing before the Land Court was a “proceeding”.
- The duty of disclosure imposed by rule 211 of the UCPR requires each party to disclose documents directly relevant to a matter in issue in the proceedings. However, in this hearing, the Land Court is not required to adjudicate on matters in issue, but to provide advice to a decision-making authority.
The Land Court’s ruling is subject to judicial review
The Court held that the hearing by the Land Court was of an administrative nature, and as such any decision made during the course of the hearing was administrative and therefore a decision to which theJudicial Review Act applies (under s 20(1) of the Judicial Review Act).
Also, because the Land Court member made the ruling in the course of making a recommendation required under the MRA and EP Act, the ruling involved conduct for the purpose of making a decision to which the Judicial Review Act applies, and was reviewable conduct by the Land Court member under section 21(1).
Therefore, if the ruling was not a reviewable decision under section 20(1), then it was reviewable conduct for the purpose of making a decision under section 21(1)