Consequences of a Breach of Natural Justice – McCleverty v Australian Karting Assoc Ltd

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“Natural justice is a Common Law doctrine that provides important procedural rights in administrative decision-making.” It is a principle crucial to the fair administration of justice and allows participants to maintain a certain level of confidence in the dispute resolution process.

These days the term “natural justice” has been somewhat overtaken by the notion of the “requirements of procedural fairness”.

Both of these terms refer to the “the fairness and detachment required of a person entrusted with statutory power or authority to make an administrative decision which may adversely and directly affect the rights, interest, status or legitimate expectations of another in his, her or its individual capacity.”

The operation of the principles allow participants in the dispute resolution process to maintain an expectation that, where there is a complaint to be heard against a person, that person will have the opportunity to respond fully to the material considered by the decision maker and that the decision maker will be an unbiased third party.

The principles are intended to ensure that matters are not decided before all interested parties have been heard on all material evidence.”What is required by procedural fairness is a fair hearing, not a fair outcome”.

However, in circumstances where procedural fairness has not been afforded to the aggrieved, the decision that arose from that procedure may be void for lack of natural justice/procedural fairness. Issues of natural justice and procedural fairness frequently arise in the context of employment disputes or administrative appeals and arose in the case of McCleverty v Australian Karting Assoc Ltd [2015] QSC 323.

In November 2015 Mr McCleverty, the former president and life member of Australian Karting Association (QLD) Inc (AKAQI), brought an application in the Supreme Court of Queensland against the AKAQI claiming that the Tribunal did not afford him natural justice in reaching their decision to uphold his suspension for a period of 10 years following his alleged inappropriate conduct.

During the hearing, the tribunal had regard to relevant material contained in documents that were not provided to Mr McCleverty. Despite the fact that this material only formed part of the material considered by the Tribunal and that Mr McClevery had an otherwise weak claim, Dalton J of the Supreme Court found that it was a substantial breach of natural justice to withhold the relevant material from him.

By failing to provide a copy the relevant material considered by the tribunal in reaching its decision, Mr McCleverty was denied the opportunity to respond to its contents and therefore was denied the opportunity to be heard on the relevant evidence in the dispute.

The right to be heard is a fundamental principle of the requirements of procedural fairness and goes to the heart of the fair administration of justice. Dalton J ultimately decided that due to a breach of natural justice the original decision of the board of the AKAQI and the later decision of the tribunal “must be declared void” irrespective of the strength of the evidence presented by the parties as to their reasons for decision.

This case highlights the importance of transparency in the dispute resolution process and the consequences it may have should parties fail to provide the aggrieved with all material to be considered.

Decisions may be regarded void for lack procedural fairness regardless of whether a response to withheld material would ultimately sway the decision in the matter.