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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Full Court of Federal Court turns pages back to FOI 101

The right to your day in court is a central element of our legal system that must be preserved. But the patience of those involved must be sorely tested in cases, such as Luck v University of Southern Queensland involving a frequent litigant, including on Commonwealth Freedom of Information matters. The Full Bench of the Federal Court spent time and resources (a decision running to 124 paragraphs in three separate but unanimous judgments) in considering and dismissing an appeal, essentially over whether the University of Southern Queensland is an agency for the purposes of the Commonwealth FOI Act. (There were a few other issues including the decision of the hearing judge's refusal to disqualify himself on grounds of bias.)

It isn't and never has been.The University was established by a Queensland act and is an agency subject to the Queensland Freedom of Information Act.Review processes under the state act involve state bodies not the Federal Administrative Appeals Tribunal, or the Federal Court. The applicant pressed the wrong button way back in the process, but pursued the matter doggedly through the Tribunal, a hearing by a single judge and finally the Full Court. While costs were awarded to the University, you can only wonder about the cost to the taxpayer for a matter that was clearly in the wrong jurisdiction. Along the way the applicant who was self-represented, dispensed with the services of two pro-bono legal representatives assigned under Court Order, who according to Justice Rares "failed to win her confidence." I assume they commented about the chances of success.

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