Monday, 3 May 2010

Family Court: summary of adequacy of reasons

The Full Court of the Family Court in a recent appeal case has given guidelines about when trial judges give adequate reasons.

Justice Coleman, sitting as the Full Court, was hearing an appeal from a Federal Magistrate in Wen and Thom. His Honour stated:

(T)he real issue raised in this appeal is the extent to which what are generally called “reasons challenges” can be resisted in reliance upon matters which arise by implication from matters expressly recorded in judicial reasons for judgment. The submissions of senior counsel for the husband confirm that the issue is not without uncertainty. The Court accepts that no authority to which it has been referred analyses the issue in terms of “implications”.


It is instructive to look to the rationale for judicial reasons. Earlier in these Reasons the Court has set out, rather more extensively than is perhaps usual, the authorities which are relevant to this issue. From those authorities a number of matters emerge as the criteria by reference to which the adequacy of judicial reasons may be assessed. This is of particular significance given that, as the authorities make clear, how much or little of the reasoning process must be explicitly revealed in judicial reasons varies from case to case. The Court is not persuaded that reasons for judgment are necessarily, and inherently deficient on the basis that not every potentially relevant fact or circumstance is referred to. The Court perceives from the authorities that it is a question of degree in every case. Provided that the necessary framework is provided, the fact that discerning the path of judicial reasoning may involve reliance upon implications may not render them inadequate.

Answers to the following series of questions, which emerge from the authorities, are instructive when determining whether the judicial reasoning process in this case has been adequately revealed:

(a) Can the basis of the decision be seen and understood?

(b) Can the parties see which of their arguments had been understood and accepted as forming part of the basis of the judicial decision?

(c) Can an appeal court ascertain the reasoning upon which the decision was based?

(d) Is the losing party denied knowledge as to why his or her case was rejected?

(e) Did every matter raised on behalf of a party require determination and exposition in judicial reasons?

(f) Did the judicial reasons fail to address an essential part of the reasoning which led to the judicial decision?

(g) Were matters complained of on appeal the subject of submissions or otherwise of significance in the proceedings in the court below in a way which called for a reasoned consideration of them?

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