Articles > Small Business

What is The De Minimis Rule?

April 19, 2021   Liv ChumPhilip Evangelou

The De Minimis rule is a common law principle that is used to prevent the law from intervening where matters are extremely immaterial. This is because considering matters which are insignificant will only contribute to very minimal to any relevant findings. This principle is applicable to both civil and criminal jurisdictions. 

The purpose of the de minimis rule 

De minimis exists to:

  • Avoid burdening the courts with minor complaints 
  • Avoid a waste of costs 
  • Prevent wasting resources 
  • Prevent wasting time – Allow courts to deal with serious matters efficiently as it avoids more trivial issues  from taking up the courts time. 

Civil Cases

In civil matters, the de minimis rule is applicable where the court has to determine whether something has contributed to a ‘material degree’. The true meaning of whether something did occur to a ‘material degree’ was assessed in the 2007 Federal court of Australia case, Comcare v Sahu Khan. This case evaluated the meaning of ‘material degree’ in the context of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and found that for something to have contributed to  ‘A material degree’:

The contribution must be so great and significant that it influenced the course of events. In this case, it meant that a factor of employment must have contributed significantly to an injury or suffering as the de minimis rule applies to anything that has had minimal contribution. 

Criminal Law

In criminal cases, the de minimis rule can be applied where the facts alleged or proven for an offence are so immaterial. This means that upon committing an offence, the offender fell short of performing a crime by a significant margin.  An example of this may be theft consisting of a worthless piece of paper or a person being accused of malicious damage to property because a small portion of another person’s hedge was cut. 

In addition, de minimis can also apply to the level of criminal responsibility a person may be found to have. For instance, if an accessory after the fact only contributed to a crime in an extremely minor manner, their contribution would be deemed to be de minimis. 

Tax Law

Applies to taxation/ income tax in Australia. For example, an income amount under the tax threshold that needs to be met before tax is payable is considered as de minimis 

Copyright Law

Very minor breaches of copyright law will be considered as de minimis 

De minimis rule in summary

The De minimis rule is a rule applied in both criminal and civil matters which stops the court from dealing with issues that are extremely trivial. Such a rule exists to allow courts to deal with other matters which hold more significance in a more timely manner. 

If you have any other questions about the De Minimis Rule get in touch with our commercial lawyers via the form or calling us on 1300 337 997. 

About Liv Chum

Liv ChumLiv is one of OpenLegal's paralegals. Liv is a passionate student of the law, with a real interest in the way that business and legal requirements intersect.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.