Friday 25 October 2019

A question of time: calculating statutory time limits

Statutory time limits for taking action are described in different ways within legislation, making (what should be) simple maths complicated for lawyers and decision-makers.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (VCAT Act) includes the following two examples of statutory time limits:

  • a Ministerial call-in notice is of no effect unless it is given no later than 7 days before the day fixed for the hearing of the proceeding (cl 58(2), Sch 1, VCAT Act);
  • a request to a decision-maker for a statement of reasons must be made in writing within 28 days after the day on which the decision was made (s 45, VCAT Act).

These examples alone could cause confusion. Does 'no later than seven days' mean one week, or more than a week? Does 'within 28 days' include the 28th day? What if the final date falls on a weekend?

The laws on statutory time limits

Luckily, we do have some guidance on how to count these time periods. Section 44 of the Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (IL Act) sets out rules for counting days under Victorian legislation. For example:

  • If a time limit for 'doing' something falls on a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday, the time limit should extend to the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday. This is sometimes called the 'extension rule'; 
  • If a period of time ends on a specific day, that day is included in the period;
  • If a period begins on a specific day, that day is not included in the period.

Waterfront Place Pty Ltd v Minister for Planning [2019] VSCA 156 

Section 44 of the IL Act was directly at issue in the recent Supreme Court of Appeal decision of Waterfront Place Pty Ltd v Minister for Planning [2019] VSCA 156.

The facts

The Applicant (Waterfront) owns land in Port Melbourne. On 24 October 2016, Waterfront applied to Port Phillip City Council (Council) for a planning permit to develop its land for the purpose of a 10 storey development.  The application was refused. On 12 September 2017, Waterfront commenced proceedings in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) to review the Council's decision.

The Minister for Planning (the Minister) 'called in' (i.e. 'intervened in') the proceeding, pursuant to the power under cl 58(2) of Schedule 1 of the VCAT Act.

To be valid, a call in notice must be submitted no later than 7 days before the date of the hearing. In this case:

  • the hearing was listed on Monday, 30 July 2018; and
  • the Minister called in the proceeding on Monday 23 July 2018.

The issue was whether the call in notice was submitted in time. The Court of Appeal held that it was, and so the Ministerial call in was valid.

The Court reasoned as follows:

  • as a first step, 'no later than 7 days before' Monday 30 July 2018 meant that the last date for the call in notice to be filed was Sunday 22 July 2018 (all parties agreed with this first proposition);
  • under s 44 of the IL Act, Sunday is a 'holiday' and, applying the extension rule, if the last day for doing something falls on a holiday, the time extends to the following day;
  • therefore, the last day that the Minister was permitted to call in the proceeding was Monday 23 July 2018.

The Court rejected Waterfront's arguments that the extension rule in the IL Act did not apply to the statutory time frame in this case, due to the phrase 'no later than' and the adverse impacts on the Tribunal and the parties arising from a 'late' call in notice. In particular, the Court emphasised that the extension rule should be the 'general rule', and, because it is a rule of 'practical common sense', it should only be displaced where the legislation expressly intends for it to be displaced. The Court found there was no such express intention in this case.

Key takeaways

The decision is a reminder that calculating statutory time frames can be more complicated than you might think. There will be rules in other statutes dictating how to calculate those particular timeframes, some of which may lead to surprising results. The Waterfront decision is a perfect example of this - as a matter of law, applying the extension rule to the phrase 'no later than 7 days', the time to file a call in notice was seven days before the hearing.

For further information, please contact:

Annette Jones
Principal Solicitor
8684 0431

Lisette Stevens
8684 0475

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