Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners The Interface between Equitable Principles and Public Law

Equitable Remedies and Public Law – The

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Equitable Remedies and Public Law – The Bateman's Bay Case
Equity can provide remedies to vindicate the public interest in the maintenance of due administration where other remedies, and in particular the prerogative remedies, are inadequate. The application of equitable doctrine to the grant of relief in these circumstances was discussed by Gaudron, Gummow and Kirby JJ in Bateman's Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council v The Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund Pty Ltd:

There is a public interest in restraining the apprehended misapplication of public funds obtained by statutory bodies and effect may be given to this interest by injunction. The position is expressed in traditional form by asking of the plaintiff whether there is 'an equity' which founds the invocation of equitable jurisdiction.56 (footnotes omitted)

The three justices noted that in the public law arena equitable intervention had not been limited to the protection of particular proprietary rights. The administration of charitable trusts was a matter of public concern and, analogously with the enforcement of that interest, the English Attorney-General would move for equitable relief to restrain municipal corporations misapplying funds which they held upon charitable or statutory trusts. This application of trust doctrine has been referred to earlier. The remedies were then extended to prevent statutory bodies from unauthorised application of their funds. The role of the Attorney-General was further generalised to protect the public interest against conduct by statutory authorities exceeding their power in a way which would interfere with public rights and so injure the public.57 This historical background, which informed an important judgment about the standing of private persons to seek equitable relief, leads into a wider consideration of equitable remedies in this area.

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