14 May 2015
Queensland Land Court's interpretation of "proceedings" scaled back
The Land Court's task on an objections hearing is to make a recommendation on the grant of a mining lease or environmental authority, not to determine existing or future rights or obligations.
The Queensland Supreme Court has recently ruled that the Queensland Land Court's hearings of applications and objections under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) (MRA) and the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EPA) are not "proceedings". As a consequence, the Court rules in relation to disclosure in the course of legal proceedings do not apply.
The case has implications for the status of objections hearings in the Land Court, and reinforces that the recommendation made by the Land Court on an objections hearing is administrative in character, and therefore is subject to judicial review rather than appeal.
Applications under the MRA and EPA
In BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal Pty Ltd v Isdale  QSC 107, BHP applied for an additional surface area for its mining leases under the MRA and applied to amend the associated environmental authority under the EPA.
Mr and Mrs Baulch, the second respondents, lodged objections to both applications. The applications and objections then came before the Land Court for an objections hearing decision.
Land Court objections hearings are not "proceedings"
The Land Court ruled that BHP was required to make disclosure of documents under Chapter 7 of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999, which applies to a "proceeding" in the Court.
The Supreme Court held that the objections hearing in the Land Court was not a "proceeding" and therefore Chapter 7 did not apply to import a duty of disclosure.
While the legal characterisation of what is a "proceeding" is instructive, the real impact of the case is on the management of matters in the Land Court for objections hearings.
Implications of the decision
The decision reinforces previous authorities on the correct characterisation of the Land Court's recommendation on an objections hearing under both the MRA and EPA. The decision is significant in its implications, including that:
- the Land Court's recommendation as an "administrative decision" is a reviewable decision for the Judicial Review Act 1991 (Qld);
- the Land Court's task on an objections hearing is to make a recommendation on the grant of a mining lease or environmental authority, not to determine existing or future rights or obligations;
- the Land Court cannot make orders for disclosure in an objections hearing, and the material before the Land Court in making its recommendation (generally the application, objections and other evidence) cannot be expanded by disclosure;
- by necessary implication, there are other rules of procedure that will not be applicable to an objections hearing in the Land Court.