Earlier this week the NSW Court of Appeal in Resource Pacific Pty Ltd v Wilkinson [2103] NSWCA 33 considered the question of the adequacy of judicial reasons for judgment.

The following is the unofficial headnote to the decision

From 2008, the appellant employed the respondent as a mining technician at an underground coal mine in the Hunter Valley. The respondent alleged that from mid-2010 he could no longer work due to a psychological or psychiatric disorder which was an injury suffered during his employment. The respondent claimed that his incapacity was total and sought compensation under the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 (NSW). On 11 November 2011, Truss DCJ upheld the claim and ordered payment of compensation.


The issues in the appeal were whether the trial judge had erred by:


(i) constructively failing to exercise the jurisdiction of the Court by failing to consider “material and uncontested” evidence, and


(ii) failing to give any or any proper reasons.


The Court held, dismissing the appeal:


In relation to (i):

(per Basten JA, Beazley JA agreeing)


1. It is an error of law for a trial court to fail to exercise its constitutional function, which is to resolve a dispute presented to it by applying the law in accordance with proper procedure. The trial court must properly consider the merits of the case. However, an appeal court must take care not to overreach its statutory mandate by applying a value-laden standard: [9].


2. In the present case, the trial court fulfilled its constitutional function by resolving disputed factual issues. The trial judge’s reasons demonstrated that her Honour was cognizant of all the issues raised by the appellant in its grounds. In setting out the claimant’s evidence in respect of the various incidents, the trial judge noted the challenges raised by the defendant and, where relevant, their nature: [9], [29].


Minister for immigration and Citizenship v SZMDS [2010] HCA 16240 CLR 611; Kahn v Minister for immigration and Ethnic Affairs [1987] FCA 457(1987) 14 ALD 291; Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v SZJSS [2010] HCA 48243 CLR 164 considered.


In relation to (ii):

(per Basten JA, Beazley JA agreeing)


3. The requirement to give reasons is an incident of the judicial process. However, the requirement is neither universal in application nor consistent in nature. The function of an appellate court is to determine, not the optimal level of detail required in reasons for judgment, but rather the minimum acceptable standard: [47] – [48]


Soulemezis v Dudley (Holdings) Pty Ltd (1987) 10 NSWLR 247 considered.


4. The trial judge identified the significant challenges to the claimant’s evidence and implicitly made the necessary factual findings. Only limited reasons were given for the assessment of the cross-examination of the claimant. Nonetheless, the reasons satisfied the undemanding standard applicable to credibility findings: [60], [71].


5. The trial judge accepted the evidence of the expert called by the claimant as to the causes of the claimant’s injuries. Where an expert provides a detailed history, accepted by the trial judge as established on the evidence, little justification is required for accepting unchallenged opinions based on that history: [61], [72].


(per Macfarlan JA, in dissent)


6. Where a right of appeal exists only in respect of a question of law, reasons for a finding of fact can be less elaborate. However, the principle that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done nonetheless requires that a judge provide reasons on any critical issue. The crucial question in the present case was the impact of the work-related incidents on the claimant. Her Honour failed to provide reasons for her finding on this critical issue and, accordingly, the process of decision-making miscarried: [78] – [80], [83] – [84].


Soulemezis v Dudley (Holdings) Pty Ltd (1987) 10 NSWLR 247 and Abdel Naser Qushair v Naji Raffoul [2009] NSWCA 329 considered.