Date: 19 May 2020
Court: Supreme Court of Queensland
Judicial Officer: Bond J
Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) Sections: ss 8, 13, 31(3), 48(1)
Rights Considered: Right to a fair hearing: all judgments and decisions must be publicly available
Other Legislation: N/A

Keywords: Commercial; Fair trial; Interpretation; Proportionality; Confidentiality

The right to a fair hearing, specifically the right to have all judgments and decisions made by a court or tribunal publicly available (Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) s 31(3)), was examined by the court. This arose because there was a possibility that confidential information would be inadvertently disclosed at the conclusion of the trial. The court found it unnecessary to examine this right in depth as the proceedings began before the commencement of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld), but held that there will be circumstances where justice cannot be served if everything must be done in public.

This case concerned an agreement to supply cement by a supplier, the first plaintiff, to a purchaser, the first defendant, in December 2011. In 2019, the supplier attempted to invoke a contractual price adjustment mechanism which led to several disputes between both parties. The matter before the court primarily concerned the proper construction of the agreement: at [2].

The right to a fair trial, specifically that all judgments or decisions made by a court or tribunal in a proceeding must be made publicly available (s 31(3)) was examined by Bond J in light of confidential material that was presented during the trial: at [11]. In doing so, His Honour examined limiting this right given the limitation provisions available to courts in sections 8, 13, and 48(1) of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld).

In assessing the power of courts to constrain public availability of judgments, His Honour noted that:

‘The juridical basis of the power is, after all, the inherent power of such courts to ensure that justice is done at trial and that must be regarded as carrying with it the power to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between the competing public interests in, on the one hand, the work of the courts being conducted in public and, on the other hand, the work of the courts being done with a view to achieving appropriate protection of private rights. The law has long recognised that there will be cases where justice cannot be done at all if absolutely everything must be done in public’: at [11].

Regardless, His Honour deemed it ‘unnecessary’ to examine section 31(3) in-depth as section 108(2) states that the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) does not affect proceedings commenced or concluded before its commencement. As such, because the present case commenced in 2019, it was unnecessary to assess: at [12].

Visit the reported judgement: Wagners Cement Pty Ltd & Anor v Boral Resources (Qld) Pty Ltd & Anor [2020] QSC 124