The Limits Of Jurisdictional Error





Another High Court case of Re MIMIA; Ex p Applicant S20/2002 [2003] HCA 30 (17 June 2003), illustrates the limits of judicial review.  Here the RRT simply disbelieved the applicant as a witness.  In doing so it rejected the evidence of a corroborating witness, on the basis that it had not believed the applicant therefore the corroborating witness was not believable either. But Gleeson CJ summed up the position when he said:

  1. The essence of the complaint is that the Tribunal failed to consider the evidence as a whole, but first considered, and disbelieved, the evidence of the applicant/appellant, without taking account of the corroboration, and then considered and rejected the corroboration because of the rejection of the evidence of the applicant/appellant. I do not accept that this is a fair criticism of the Tribunal’s reasons. In my view, all that the member was saying was that, for reasons already given at length, she found the applicant/appellant’s story implausible, and in some important respects unbelievable, and that she also rejected the evidence of the corroborating witness, even though she had no separate reason to doubt his credibility other than the reasons that she had already given for rejecting the claim she was considering. The member could have expressed herself more clearly. It is not necessarily irrational, or illogical, for a finder of fact, who is convinced that a principal witness is fabricating a story, which is considered to be inherently implausible, to reject corroborative evidence, even though there is no separate or independent ground for its rejection, apart from the reasons given for disbelieving the principal witness.
  2. Upon analysis, the complaint is that the Tribunal member did not have regard to the whole of the evidence before deciding whether she believed the applicant/appellant, and did not properly assess the significance of the evidence of the corroborating witness. I am not persuaded that this criticism is justified.
  3. Decision-makers commonly express their reasons sequentially; but that does not mean that they decide each factual issue in isolation from the others. Ordinarily they review the whole of the evidence, and consider all issues of fact, before they write anything. Expression of conclusions in a certain sequence does not indicate a failure to consider the evidence as a whole. I do not think that the Tribunal member intended to convey that she made up her mind about the evidence of the applicant/appellant before taking account of the evidence of the witness who was said to corroborate him.
Barbara Davidson