Incapacity for Work: SAS Trustee Corporation v Peter Miles [2018] HCA 55

In SAS Trustee Corporation v Peter Miles [2018] HCA 55 (14 November 2018) the High Court of Australia has unanimously allowed an appeal from a judgment of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales regarding the meaning and construction of the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906 (NSW) ("the Act") section 10(1A)(b)(ii) [see Miles v SAS Trustee Corporation [2017] NSWCA 86 (4 May 2017)).

Background

The Police Superannuation Fund (the "Fund") was established under the Act. The Fund was controlled by SAS Trustee Corporation ("STC").  Mr Miles was certified in 2003, by STC as being incapable of discharging the duties of his office as a police officer. This was as a result of four specific infirmities that were orthopaedic in their nature.  Resulting from this the Commissioner of Police determined that Mr Miles' infirmities were caused by being hurt on duty. For the purposes of  section 10(1) of the Act Mr Miles satisfied the criteria for a "disabled member of the police force" and, in accordance with section 10(1A)(a), Mr Miles received an annual superannuation allowance equal to 72.75% of his attributed salary, which in 2004 was increased to 82.55%.

Section 10 of the Act provides:

(1A) Subject to this section, the annual superannuation allowance for a disabled member of the police force is:

 (b) . . .

 (ii) commensurate, in the opinion of STC, with the member’s incapacity for work outside the police force, and

Mr Miles in 2013 applied to STC under section 10(1A)(b)(ii) for an additional amount of annual superannuation allowance which he claimed arose from an infirmity known as  post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") which it was argued increased his incapacity for work outside the police force.  The STC rejected Mr Miles’ application.

District Court – Primary Proceedings

Mr Miles applied to the District Court of New South Wales [see 2016] NSWDC 56 (11 April 2016)] as a person aggrieved by the STC's decision. The primary judge, Neilson J, held that, notwithstanding that the PTSD had increased Mr Miles' incapacity for work outside the police force, the PTSD could not be taken into account, as it was a supervening incapacity and not one arising from the four specified infirmities certified by STC.

Court of Appeal NSW

Mr Miles appealed to the NSW Court of Appeal [see [2017] NSWCA 86]. In the court of appeal it was contended that once a person has met the definition of a "disabled member of the police force", as Mr Miles had, the “incapacity for work outside the police force” referred to in section 10(1A)(b)(ii) may be an incapacity that arises at any time and from any source. It could as it did in this case arise from the PTSD.  The STC argued that the “incapacity for work outside the police force” must arise from a specified infirmity the subject of the STC's certification and determined by the Commissioner of Police to have been caused by the member being hurt on duty. In this case it must arise from the specified infirmities of an orthopaedic nature.  In a majority decision the Court of Appeal allowed Mr Miles' appeal. It held that there was no reason to restrict section 10(1A)(b)(ii) to an incapacity for work outside the police force caused by the member having been hurt on duty.

Special Leave Appeal to the High Court

STC was granted special leave and appealed to the High Court.  The High Court held that the context and purpose of section 10(1A)(b)(ii) favoured the conclusion that a disabled member of the police force was not entitled to an additional amount of annual superannuation allowance under section 10(1A)(b)(ii) unless the member's incapacity for work outside the police force was attributable to a specified infirmity determined to have been caused by the member being hurt on duty. See par [54]:

When the incapacity for work outside the police force which is captured by each of s 10(1A)(b)(ii) and s 10(1A)(c) is so construed, the structure of the additional amount provided for by s 10(1A)(b) and (c) is internally coherent. The focus throughout is on the specified infirmity of body or mind that has been determined by the Commissioner of Police under s 10B(3), or by the District Court on appeal under s 21(4), to have been caused by the disabled member being hurt on duty. The inquiry throughout is as to the extent to which, in the opinion of STC, that specified infirmity has rendered the disabled member incapacitated for work outside the police force.

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Sources:

SAS Trustee Corporation v Miles [2018] HCA 55 (14 November 2018) and accompanying summaries and transcripts

Miles v SAS Trustee Corporation [2017] NSWCA 86 (4 May 20170

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