Potential Invalidity of Magistrates Court Judgments

It is somewhat common practice in this State for Magistrates, sitting in the Magistrates Court of Western Australia, to hand down judgments by sending copies to the parties involved by post.

This practice was recently commented on by the Court of Appeal in Ho v Loneragan. The appeal related to the ability to  appeal from the decision of a Magistrate. The judgment in question was handed down on 10 August 2010, it was not given in open court but rather was sent to both parties’ solicitors by post. It was received by the appellants solicitors on 17 August 2010.

The appeal was filed on 3 September 2010, 24 days after judgment but only 17 days after the judgment was received. It has recently been settled that the time limit to appeal from the decision of a Magistrate is 21 days from the date of the judgment and that time frame cannot be extended. [Edit: The act has now been amended to permit the District Court to extend time]

The appeal to the District Court was dismissed. The appellant then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal reasoned that the Magistrates judgment was liable to be set aside. It did not comply with the Act, which created the Magistrates Court, which requires proceedings to be conducted in open court. The Court noted that no application to set aside the judgment had been made. The Court did not decided whether it was open for the appellants to now apply to set aside the judgment as a result of the irregularity.

The result is that judgments which have not been given in open court are liable to be set aside. However, the Court did note that, until set aside, the judgments continue in full force and effect.

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