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Craig v South Australia (1995) 184 CLR 163

Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Jurisdictional Error

Facts; Anthony Craig was charged in the district court of South Australia with larceny of a motorcar, knowingly receiving stolen property, and arson. He sought a stay of proceedings until he could obtain legal representation, relying on Dietrich v the Queen (1992) 170 CLR 292 [#61]. The primary judge found that his lack of legal representation was not his fault and stay the proceedings until representation could be found. The crown successfully applied to the Full Court of the Supreme Court for orders in the nature of writs of certiorari (quashing the decision) and mandamus (requiring the District Court to try the case according to law), on the basis that the judge had committed a jurisdictional error. Craig then obtain special leave to appeal to the High Court for determination of the issue of whether there had been jurisdictional error or error of law on the face of the record.

Application; If such an administrative tribunal (i.e., one that does not exercise judicial power) falls into an error of law which causes it to identify a wrong issue, to ask yourself wrong question, ignore relevant material, to rely on irrelevant material or, at least in some circumstances to make an erroneous finding or to reach a mistake in conclusion and the tribunal’s exercise or pertinent exercise of power is thereby affected, it exceeds its authority or powers. Such an error of law is jurisdictional error which will invalidate any order or decision of the tribunal which reflects it. In contrast, the ordinary jurisdiction of a court of law encompasses authority to decide questions of law, as well as questions of fact, involved in matters which it has jurisdiction to determine. The identification of relevant issues, the formulation of relevant questions and the determination of what is and what is not relevant evidence are all routine steps in the discharge of that ordinary jurisdiction.

Demonstrable mistake in the identification of such issues or the formulation of such questions will commonly involve error of law which may, if an appeal is available and is pursued, be corrected by and appellate court and, depending on the circumstances, found an order setting aside the order or decision of the inferior court. Such a mistake on the part of an inferior court in trusted with authority to identify, formulate and determine such issues and questions will not, however, ordinarily constitute jurisdictional error similarly as a failure by an inferior court to take into account the matter which it was, as a matter of law, required to take into account in determining a question within jurisdiction or reliance by such a court upon some irrelevant matter upon which it was, as a matter of law, not entitled to rely in determining such a question will not ordinarily involve jurisdictional error. (Brennan, Deane, Toohey, Gaudron and McHugh JJ at 179-80).

Holding; The High Court found that there had been neither jurisdictional error nor error of law on the face of the record. This first conclusion was reached on the basis to the court of law such as the District Court – as opposed to an administrative tribunal – does not commit jurisdictional error simply by making a mistake (if indeed it did) and identifying the issues and formulating the questions relevant to the case.

The second conclusion was reached on the basis that the documents said to demonstrate error did not form part of the record. Craig is most frequently cited for the first conclusion rather than the second.