Appellate powers of full bench of airc affirmed

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Appellate powers of full bench of airc affirmed

The High Court is the final determiner of the jurisdictional powers of Australian courts and tribunals.

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The High Court is the final determiner of the jurisdictional powers of Australian courts and tribunals. The High Court decision in Coal and Allied Operations Pty Ltd v Australian Industrial Relations Commission, [2000] HCA 47 (31 August 2000), was concerned with technical legal issues relating to the jurisdiction of a Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (FB of the AIRC).

It was held that the Full Federal Court had erred in granting relief to a union in relation to a decision of the FB of the AIRC. That FB of AIRC decision had allowed an appeal from Boulton J, who had terminated a bargaining period in the course of a dispute between Coal and Allied Operations Pty Ltd and the CFMEU.

Before the High Court the union argued that the FB of the AIRC had wrongly found an 'appealable error' in the decision of Boulton J and this constituted a jurisdictional error by the FB of the AIRC by 'constructively failing to exercise its jurisdiction'. The union argued that the FB of the AIRC had approached the appeal as a rehearing and so failed to exercise its proper jurisdiction on appeal. The subsequent ruling by the Full Court of the Federal Court overruling the FB of the AIRC was according to the union therefore correct.

The employer argued that the FB of the AIRC had the power to overrule Boulton J as it did; and thus the Full Court of the Federal Court had no power to intervene and find against the jurisdiction of the FB of the AIRC.

The High Court considered the appellate powers of the FB of the AIRC contained in s45of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and agreed with the employer. Four members of the High Court found that the Full Court of the Federal Court was wrong in finding that there had been a jurisdictional error on the part of the FB of the AIRC. 

To constitute a jurisdictional error a court or tribunal has to 'misunderstand the nature of its jurisdiction . . . or misconceive its duty or fail to apply itself to the question which [the legislation] prescribes . . . or misunderstand the nature of the opinion which it [was] to form'. The majority view was that the FB of the AIRC did none of these things. The High Court was not determining whether the FB of the AIRC was actually right or wrong in finding that Boulton J had made an error on the material and evidence.

Kirby J dissented finding that the decision and orders of the FB of the AIRC did not constitute errors within jurisdiction, but were a constructive failure to exercise its jurisdiction as s45obliged.

The majority decision of the High Court was handed down by Gleeson CJ, Gaudron and Hayne JJ. Callinan J agreed with the majority decision in a separate judgement.

 
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