The Decision of Ex Parte Datafin plc and its Impact on Australian Law

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A critical analysis of the manner in which the decision in R v Panel on Takeovers and Mergers; Ex parte Datafin plc [1987] 1 QB 815 is being dealt with under Australian law. Introduction The case of Datafin is an accepted element of public law in England; however Australian law is unclear to its applicability as courts reference the principle cautiously in the absence of a case pertaining substantive facts. The Datafin principle provides that a decision-making body may be subject to judicial review whether it is exercises its power from statute or private contract.

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That is to say, both the source and the nature of the power being exercised are to be considered when determining if a body is amenable to judicial review. In Australia, the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (‘ADJR Act’) provides a statutory right to judicial review however a common law right (which may exist under the Datafin principle) is yet to be decided. Without a final decision from the High Court as to its applicability, the Datafin principle will continue to be dealt with tentatively on a case by case basis. However recent cases from lower and appellate courts indicate that the principle will most likely apply here as it does in England when a case with the relevant facts arises. Current Position in Australian Law There is no clear authority for the adoption of Datafin in Australia despite many decisions with reference to the principle. The closest the courts have come to taking an authoritative position regarding Datafin is the High Court’s ruling in NEAT Domestic Training Pty Ltd v AWB Ltd.[1] This case marked a ‘paradigm shift’ in the delivery of administrative governmental services from being almost purely derived from statute to a mixture of private and public bodies.[2] In this case the High Court took an interpretation of Datafin to focus solely on the source of the power with no consideration to the power’s possible administrative/public nature. However, the conclusion in NEAT was very much limited to unique facts of the case and did not intend to be taken as a response to the broader issue of whether Datafin applies in Australia (i.e. whether public law remedies such as judicial review can be granted against private bodies). In this case, the improper exercise of discretionary power was argued by a wheat trader against the Australian Wheat Board (AWB). However since the AWB was a private body brought into effect by the Corporations Law (Vic), it was found that its power was not derived from the statute which NEAT was arguing under (the Wheat Marketing Act 1989). The AWB’s decision-making power was therefore not subject to the ADJR Act which sets out a requirement that decisions must be made “under an enactment” in order to be amenable to judicial review.

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