The Supreme Court of NSW has refused the Tax Commissioner’s application to access a court file in relation to the ongoing Rinehart and Hancock proceedings in relation to the possible tax consequences of extending the vesting date of the trust (including any tax professional advice given on the matter). In refusing the Commissioner access to the file, the Court relied on its own administrative practice policy dealing with access to court files by non-parties to proceedings to rule that access was not to be given prior to the conclusion of the proceedings as the material sought may not have been yet read in open court or admitted into evidence. In this regard, the Court noted that the substantive matter had not yet been concluded.

However, the Court also emphasised that to grant such access to the Commissioner at this stage before completion of the matter would mean that the Court itself would have to segregate the documents which have been read in evidence from those that have not and those the subject of confidentiality orders from those that are not, and that this was not its function. Nevertheless, the Court also ruled that if the ATO wished to inspect the material to which it sought access (and specifically identified it), it would consider granting access – but only after the parties to the case had been afforded an opportunity to check that any material not in evidence or subject to confidentiality orders had been redacted.

(Hancock v Rinehart [2014] NSWSC 5, Supreme Court of NSW, Brereton J, 20 January 2014.)

[LTN 14, 22/1/14]