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Information

Mansfield v The Queen; Kizon v The Queen [2012] HCA 49. Hayne, Crennan, Kiefel & Bell JJ.

Ordinary usage of "information"

29. The word "information" in its ordinary usage is not to be understood as confined to knowledge communicated which constitutes or concerns objective truths.

Knowledge can be conveyed about a subject-matter (whether "fact, subject, or event") and properly be described as "information" whether the knowledge conveyed is wholly accurate, wholly false or a mixture of the two.

The person conveying that knowledge may know or believe that what is conveyed is accurate or false, whether in whole or in part, and yet, regardless of that person's state of mind, what is conveyed is properly described as "information".

30. Both appellants relied heavily upon dictionary definitions of "information", but these definitions do not establish the appellants' central proposition about ordinary usage.

It will be recalled that one definition of "information" is "knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event".

Both appellants fixed on the word "fact", which may indeed imply truthfulness. But no distinction between truth and falsity is implied by the other elements of the definition.

In particular, no distinction of that kind is to be made in respect of "information" that is "knowledge communicated concerning some particular ... subject".

Heydon J

The ordinary meaning of "information"

59. A general expression like "information" can certainly have different meanings in different contexts. But there are numerous authorities holding that "information" can include what is false. Thus in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, Blackburn CJ said: "information can be true or untrue": Hook v John Fairfax & Sons Ltd (1982) 42 ACTR 17 at 19.

In the Federal Court of Australia, Whitlam, Tamberlin and Sackville JJ said that in ss 424(1) and424A(1) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) "information" included material that was not reliable or that lacked a sound factual basis: Win v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (2001) 105 FCR 212 at 217-218 [17]-[22]. See also VAF v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2004] FCAFC 123

Weinberg J held that the statutory duty of a bankrupt to provide written information to the bankrupt's trustee could be satisfied by the provision of incomplete or inaccurate information: Wharton v Official Receiver in Bankruptcy [2001] FCA 96; (2001) 107 FCR 28 at 38-40 [57][68].

Hill J held that a reference to "information" in s 10 of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) included false information: Esso Australia Ltd v Curran (1989) 39 A Crim R 157 at 165.

And Muirhead J held that for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) "deliberately false information, albeit malicious, coming into the hands of a department, which does not at the time of receipt know whether it is true or false is nevertheless at that time fairly labelled 'information' ": McKenzie v Secretary to Department of Social Security (1986) 65 ALR 645 at 648.

60.The tendency of these authorities, on which the prosecution relied in this Court, is adverse to the appellants' interests. Although to some extent the reasoning in those cases depended on arguments drawn from the language of legislation in which the word "information" appeared, it also depended on views as to the ordinary meaning of that word.

61.The present submission of the appellants appealed to what they called the ordinary meaning of "information". The appellants pointed out that the definition of information was inclusive, and its meaning was not limited to pars (a) and (b) of the definition. It was submitted that the meaning of "information" other than that meaning set out in pars (a) and (b) was the ordinary meaning. And it was submitted that in its ordinary meaning "information" requires truth or factual reality. Reliance was placed on par a. of the third meaning given for "information" in The Oxford English Dictionary: "Knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject or event; that of which one is apprised or told; intelligence, news": The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed (1989), vol VII at 944.

 But "knowledge" concerning a subject is not necessarily factually correct; nor is "that of which one is apprised or told"; nor is "news". Reliance was also placed on the second meaning given for information in TheOxford English Dictionary: "The action of informing ...; communication of the knowledge or 'news' of some fact or occurrence; the action of telling or fact of being told of something."

However, The Oxford English Dictionary gave the following example: "This I have by credible informacion learned." That example implies that there is such a thing as non-credible information.

62. The first definition in The Macquarie Dictionary for "information" is "knowledge communicated or received concerning some fact or circumstance; news." The first three meanings given for "knowledge" are:

"1. acquaintance with facts, truths or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition.

2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject, branch of learning, etc.

3. acquaintance; familiarity gained by sight, experience or report: a knowledge of human nature."

The problem for the appellants is that one can study or investigate without learning the truth. One can be familiar with a subject but make mistakes about it. And it is notorious that a supposed knowledge of human nature leads to considerable controversy about what its traits are and what flows from them.

63. If the appellants' submission were correct, in the expression "correct information" the word "correct" would be superfluous. It is not superfluous. To speak of "correct information" is not to speak tautologously. And the expression "incorrect information" is not oxymoronic. Nor is it self-contradictory.

64. A party to a contract who is disappointed because of a pre-contractual misrepresentation may claim: "You gave me some information during the negotiations; I acted on that information, but it was false information." That purchaser is using "information" in one of its ordinary meanings.

65. Hence the ordinary meaning of "information" does not assist the appellants. Indeed, the inclusion in the meaning of "information" of "matters of supposition", which may well be false, creates in this respect a consistency within the definition as a whole.


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