With WA's Supreme Court set to issue its final orders stripping Gina Rinehart of the massive Rhodes Ridge iron ore project today, the mining magnate will have 21 days to decide on whether to extend the long-running dispute over its ownership through an appeal to Australia's High Court.
In October the Supreme Court rejected Mrs Rinehart's appeal against a 2010 ruling that handed a 25 per cent stake in Rhodes Ridge, then held by Hancock Prospecting, to the family company owned by the descendents of her late father's business partner. The decision handed Wright Prospecting a 50 per cent stake in the high-grade iron ore deposit, with the other 50 per cent owned by Rio Tinto.
At the time of that decision the Supreme Court held off on making final orders in the matter, allowing the parties to make submissions on how the handover of the assets should be structured. Those orders were released yesterday morning, but the Supreme Court took the unusual decision of recalling them late in the afternoon, with a court official instructing media outlets that the "written reasons should not be published". It is unclear why the decision was recalled.
Hancock Prospecting executives did not respond to a request for comment on the matter, and a spokesman for Wright Prospecting said its lawyers were not aware of the reasons for the recall.
When the orders are reissued this morning, it will start the clock for Mrs Rinehart to decide whether she will prolong the battle further, by appealing to the High Court. As the losing appellant, Mrs Rinehart is likely to bear the brunt of the costs of the appeal, estimated in the millions.
The Rhodes Ridge dispute focused on a 1984 agreement between Hancock Prospecting founder Lang Hancock and business partner Peter Wright, which allocated the partnership's half share of Rhodes Ridge to the Wright camp. When Mr Wright died in 1985 the asset was still held in their joint venture, but Hancock Prospecting claimed that the deal was superseded by a 1989 agreement signed when Mr Hancock was seeking to develop Rhodes Ridge and other assets - that argument was rejected by the Court of Appeal last year.
The two warring families will return to court tomorrow on a second matter, a push by Wright Prospecting to win a quarter share of other Pilbara mining tenements, include the Hope Downs 4 joint venture between Mrs Rinehart and Rio Tinto.