The case concerned the validity of a deportation order. Mr Teoh, a Malaysian citizen, entered Australia on a temporary entry permit and married an Australian citizen, who already had four children. Mr Teoh and his Australian wife had three more children. Mr Teoh applied for a permanent entry permit. During the period in which his application was being considered, Mr Teoh was convicted of heroin importation offences and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. His application for permanent residence was later denied by the Minister's delegate on the ground that he was not of good character.

Mr Teoh applied for a review of the decision. The Immigration Review Panel recommended that he not be granted residency, and the Minister's delegate accepted that recommendation. Another delegate of the Minister then decided that Mr Teoh be deported.

Mr Teoh then applied to the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 for a review of the decision. His application was dismissed by Justice French.

Mr Teoh then appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court. During the course of the hearing the argument arose concerning the break up of the family and the effect on the children. It was also noted that that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a party, requires the interests of the child to be a primary consideration in any action concerning children. A majority of the Full Court set aside the decision, remitting it to the Minister for reconsideration. Justices Lee and Carr considered that the Government's ratification of the Convention created a `legitimate expectation' that a Commonwealth decision maker would make the best interests of the children a primary consideration.

The Minister appealed to the High Court. The case was heard by five Justices. A majority of the Court dismissed the appeal, with costs.