Expert evidence

Odisho v Central Coast Council [2023] NSWLEC 1017

When meaning is at stake, a natural inclination may be to call in an expert.  But, while experts might give evidence on the technical meaning of non-legal words4, their views on ordinary meaning of words are inadmissible5.  This case makes an even bigger point.

At issue was the extent of ‘beach erosion’ on a DA to build a new pool in a coastal backyard.   The word ‘beach’ was defined in the statute but not ‘beach erosion’6.  It was argued that the opinion of an expert on the ordinary meaning of ‘beach’ should be substituted for the statutory definition.  This was rejected.  Experts cannot determine ordinary meaning, much less can they override parliament.

This principle is from Episode 94 of interpretation NOW!


4 Olney (1992) 34 FCR 470 (at 480), Clegg [2017] WASCA 30 (at [56]).

5 Uber BV [2017] FCA 110 (at [104]), Lansell House [2010] FCA 329 (at [60]).

6 s 4 of the Coastal Management Act 2016 (NSW).