Keane CJ, Spender and Barker JJ
The Full Federal Court on 8 June 2010 overturned a decision of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner to dispose of the Huddleston land claim in the Northern Territory. The Commissioner had disposed of the claim due to the claimants not providing further information relating to their application within a six month period as requested pursuant to s 67A(7) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976.
The Northern Land Council (NLC) on behalf of the applicants challenged this determination claiming a failure to accord procedural fairness in reaching the decision. The Commissioner emphasised that an extension was possible if satisfied that a genuine effort was being made to provide the information requested. The Principal Legal Officer of the NLC conceded that the Commissioner’s requests had been mislaid by staff, however argued that the information requested was extensive and that its legal and anthropological branches were working at capacity in resolving other outstanding claims.
Although the Court held that the Commissioner was entitled to take the view that he was not provided with a sufficient basis to grant an appropriate extension, the common law duty to act fairly and accord procedural fairness prevailed. Therefore the Court rendered the Commissioner’s decision to dispose of the claim invalid and of no effect. Further, due to its active support of the Commissioner, the second respondent, the Government of the Northern Territory, was ordered to pay costs.