The requirement that illogicality or irrationality be ‘extreme’ is a gloss that adds nothing

The proposition to the contrary, that there is a requirement for illogicality or irrationality to also be ‘extreme’, is made by the Minister with alarming frequency and betrays an understanding of what exactly is required to make out a jurisdictional error of this kind.

In AWU16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2020] FCA 513 the Federal Court said:

[24] Referring to CQG15 v Minister for Immigration & Border Protection [2016] FCAFC 146; 253 FCR 496 at [61], the Minister submitted that the alleged illogicality or irrationality of reasoning must be of an “extreme” kind, not a matter on which reasonable minds might differ, and not a matter on which a supervising Court simply disagrees with a decision-maker, even emphatically.

[25] Save for the gloss arising from the word “extreme”, those propositions can also be accepted and are well established. There is nothing in High Court authorities such as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v SZMDS [2010] HCA 16; 240 CLR 611 which suggests that the adjectival description of “extreme” is a necessary element in a finding of illogicality or irrationality. If the decision-maker’s fact finding is proven to be irrational or illogical, in a way which was material to the outcome of the review, that is sufficient. The stringency of the threshold arises in the need for the decision-maker’s reasoning to be capable, objectively, of being described as irrational or illogical.

Wrongful rejection of corroborative evidence because the initial evidence is rejected due to ‘credibility’

This bootstrap reasoning is common in decisions which read as if the decision-maker knows he or she has no intellectually-defensible way of rejecting inconvenient corroborative evidence, and so resorts to dismissing it because of some kind of domino effect arising from the rejection of the original evidence of the applicant. In BZD17 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2018] FCAFC 94; 263 FCR 292 at [45] the Full Court explained that this kind of reasoning may be illogical:

… it is true that the High Court held in S20/2002 that it is not irrational (albeit not necessarily preferable) for the finder of fact to focus “first upon the case as it was put by the appellant”, before considering the alleged corroboration.  However, this does not mean that the finder of fact can ignore the allegedly corroborative material and fail to consider it in an intellectually active way (WAIJ v Minister for Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs [2004] FCAFC 74 at [27] (Lee and Moore JJ); semble SZDGC at [23] (Finkelstein J)). For example, as in DAO16, a finding that a visa applicant’s evidence is not credible may not of itself provide a logical or rational basis on which to dismiss all of the corroborative evidence and, once the corroborative evidence is considered, it may at least raise a doubt about whether the whole of an applicant’s claims should in fact be rejected, thereby enlivening the obligation to consider the alternative scenario that the applicant’s claims might be correct. 

Illogicality, irrationality (and unreasonableness) can be used to challenge intermediate facts, not just the end decision

The contention to the contrary is still sometimes agitated by the Minister, but that is plainly wrong. If authority is needed, see ARG15 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2016] FCAFC 174 at [47]:

… Illogicality or irrationality in that extreme sense may be considered not only in relation to the end result, but also extends to fact finding which leads to the end result, albeit that, as Robertson J emphasised in SZRKT at [151], the overarching question is whether the decision was affected by jurisdictional error (see also the observations of Beech-Jones J in BKE v Office of Children’s Guardian [2015] NSWSC 523 at [113] and the cases referred to therein).

Unreasonableness and being a ‘reformed homosexual man’ or ‘genuinely bisexual’

A particularly egregious example of unreasonableness is Abboud v Minister [2018] FCA 185  in which the Tribunal made arbitrary assumptions as to how a gay person ought to behave.  The Tribunal has now on several occasions rejected persecution claims on the basis of sexuality through means of suggesting the applicant is involved in a gay ‘conspiracy theory’.  Patently, such approach is unreasonable, irrational or demonstrative of failing to engage with the material before it. The entire Abboud decision is worth reading in order to expose the audacity of the Tribunal’s reasoning, but see especially [23]-[26].


Requirements for ‘no evidence’

In the context of migration decisions (but necessarily applicable to decision-making generally), a successful no-evidence submission requires:

  • demonstration that there was no evidence at all; and
  • the impugned fact being a jurisdictional fact.

Perry J referred to this in Maxwell v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2016) 149 ALD 604, [54]:

It is not the case that the “no-evidence” ground is established by a mere insufficiency of evidence to support a finding, even if the evidence is slight: VAS v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2002] FCAFC 350 at [18]–[19] (Gray, Moore and Weinberg JJ). There must be no evidence at all on which the finding could have been based: ibid. … Secondly and in any event, a jurisdictional fact must be involved before a jurisdictional error based on the “no-evidence” ground can be established: Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs v SGLB (2004) 207 ALR 12; 78 ALD 224; [2004] HCA 32 at [39] (Gummow and Hayne JJ, with whose reasons Gleeson CJ agreed at [1]). As Madgwick J held in SZAPC v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 995 (SZAPC) at [57] in summarising the effect of the High Court authorities: “[a] “no evidence” attack will only suffice as such if it can be said that there is an actual ‘absence of any foundation in fact for the fulfilment of the conditions upon which, in law, the existence of a power depends’, that is, if there is no evidence to support a finding of a jurisdictional fact” (quoting Re Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs; Ex parte Applicant S20/2002 (2003) 198 ALR 59; 73 ALD 1; [2003] HCA 30 at [36]).

There must literally be no evidence at all.  ‘Flimsy’ evidence is sufficient for the finding to survive: Maxwell v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2016) 149 ALD 604, [54].

The need for the finding (alleged to be supported by no evidence) to be a jurisdictional fact was discussed by Bromberg J in Buchwald v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2016] FCA 101, [32]-[40].  In particular, his Honour referred at [40] to French CJ’s observations in Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (2011) 244 CLR 144 at [57]:

The term “jurisdictional fact“ applied to the exercise of a statutory power is often used to designate a factual criterion, satisfaction of which is necessary to enliven the power of a decision-maker to exercise a discretion. The criterion may be “a complex of elements“. When a criterion conditioning the exercise of statutory power involves assessment and value judgments on the part of the decision-maker, it is difficult to characterise the criterion as a jurisdictional fact, the existence or non-existence of which may be reviewed by a court. The decision-maker’s assessment or evaluation may be an element of the criterion or it may be the criterion itself. Where a power is expressly conditioned upon the formation of a state of mind by the decision-maker, be it an opinion, belief, state of satisfaction or suspicion, the existence of the state of mind itself will constitute a jurisdictional fact. If by necessary implication the power is conditioned upon the formation of an opinion or belief on the part of the decision-maker then the existence of that opinion or belief can also be viewed as a jurisdictional fact.

The no-evidence ground often also factually overlaps with the illogicality ground: see SZAPC v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 995 [55]-[70].  There may also be overlap with unreasonableness: see eg ABAR15 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (No 2) [2016] FCA 721 , [101].