Queensland Law Society

Queensland needs reform on class actions

Queensland's continued lack of a class action structure perpetuates a significant omission in the State's legal structure, according to Queensland Law Society.

Last week, Lawyers Weekly reported class actions were Australia’s fastest-growing type of litigation.

Society president Bill Potts said while the exclusion of the Queensland legal profession from these reforms was a cause for concern, the significant issue was the ongoing failure to provide Queenslanders with a tool that makes accessible the judicial processes on a more efficient basis.

“Class actions are often the only way that poorly-resourced victims of disasters and other tragedies can uphold their rights, but for Queensland victims with a possible class action, the only option is to commence those actions in other jurisdictions.” he said.

Mr Potts made special note of the victims of the Queensland floods, who were forced to file their class action in the Supreme Court of New South Wales due to the lack of jurisdiction in Queensland.

“Queensland has barristers, solicitors and judiciary the equal of any jurisdiction in the world –there is no logical reason that Queenslanders should be denied access to those resources, and incur the expense and inconvenience of travelling to another state simply to enforce their rights.”

Concerns that a class-action regime might trigger an explosion of litigation have not been experienced in other Australian jurisdictions.

Mr Potts said it was important to note the courts administration of its own processes and other regulation such as the adverse costs regime in Australia prevented the excesses that have plagued some other class action systems.

“In Australia, between judicial control and the general ‘loser pays’ rules, frivolous actions are few and far between,’’ he said.

“The cost and complexity of class actions and judicial supervision that is seen in the other Australian jurisdictions tends to limit class actions to genuine matters.

“It is also fair to say that the potential adverse consequences of class actions tend to encourage responsible corporate behaviour - nobody wants to be on the wrong end of a class action, and this has the effect of encouraging more responsible corporate conduct.”

Any impost on the courts' resources is likely to be more than offset by the resolution of multiple matters in a single process.

“Over half of all class actions in Australia over the last 11 years have settled,” Mr Potts said.

“By definition, class actions do require more focus in handling the claims of a large number of people in one court case; this tends to bring more focus to bear on solution outside of trials."

Queensland Law Society had engaged on the issue with other stakeholders, according to Mr Potts, and the introduction of a class action regime in Queensland was supported by the Bar Association and many judges, in addition to enjoying widespread support amongst solicitors. Keeping the legal work in Queensland would be good for the state’s economy and the local legal profession, he noted.

“My counterpart at the Bar Association, Chris Hughes, has recently noted the current paucity of work on offer for junior barristers; having our own regime would go some way to address that, and a thriving Queensland legal industry would help drive our state’s economy. The ‘Yes, Minister’ factor is that the necessary changes to have our own class action regime were tabled in a bill in 2014, but it lapsed after the election was called.”

Mr Potts said if the government were to revive the legislation it would likely have bipartisan support as the original Bill was drafted by the LNP.

“At the end of the day this is an access to justice issue for Queenslanders; we shouldn’t have to go to another state to get fair compensation when we have suffered harm.’’ he said.

“This reform is simple and would save a lot of stress and time for people who have already suffered; it is win-win for everybody and should be a priority for both sides of government.”

ENDS

For further information, please contact Tony Keim on 07 3842 5835, mobile 0488 433 884 or via email, media@qls.com.au.