Recent amendments to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth)

Recent amendments have been made to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth), which are intended to reduce the cost involved in defending unmeritorious complaints.

Key amendments include:

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) must now assess a complaint at lodgment and be satisfied it is "reasonably arguable" that unlawful discrimination has occurred to meet the threshold for lodgment. This assessment must include a consideration of whether an exemption to unlawful discrimination applies
  • The grounds upon which AHRC can terminate a complaint have been expanded, and include where there is no reasonable prospect the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court would be satisfied that unlawful discrimination occurred or where the President is satisfied that the complaint is trivial, vexatious, misconceived, or lacking in substance
  • Significantly, where AHRC terminates a complaint in most circumstances, Complainants will be required to seek the leave of the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court before progressing the matter. Previously, where AHRC had terminated a complaint for any reason, the complainant was able to then commence proceedings in the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court without restriction
  • AHRC must now notify any person against whom an adverse allegation has been made in the complaint, even where that person is not an individually named respondent to the complaint;
  • Whilst there is no strict time limitation period for lodging a complaint with AHRC, the President currently has a discretion to terminate claims lodged more than 12 months after the alleged events occurred. Recent amendments (applicable only to events which occur on or after 13 April 2017) have shortened this period to six months after the alleged events occurred
  • New provisions have been introduced relating to costs which may serve to discourage unmeritorious claims before the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court. The provisions allow the Courts to consider offers to settle made by a respondent in deciding whether to award costs.

The information in this publication is provided for general purposes only. It is not to be relied on as a substitute for legal advice. Crown Law and the Department of Justice and Attorney-General accept no liability for losses caused by reliance on the material in this publication. Formal legal advice should be obtained for particular matters.

Published: 9 June 2017

Author: Samantha Kane