CIVIL LAW cases will be the subject of a Victorian Law Reform Commission review that will evaluate their cost, complexity and the speed with which they are handled.
The Commission’s project will analyse class actions, expert witnesses and the abuse of process. It will also assess alternative methods of dispute resolution and rules governing civil trials.
The project will be led by new full-time commissioner, associate professor Peter Cashman, founder of national firm Maurice Blackburn Cashman and past president of the National Australian Plaintiff Lawyers’ Association.
The Victorian government has allowed the Commission a year to report on the review project of the civil law system and isolate potential areas of reform.
“Unlike New South Wales, which has introduced a harmonised set of rules for the three courts, Victoria still has quite different rules for the Magistrates Court, the County Court and the Supreme Court. But the government wants to go beyond just getting standard rules, it wants to come up with proposals which are going to simplify, expedite and reduce the cost of civil litigation,” Cashman said.
The review will call on the courts, the legal profession, businesses, consumer groups, government departments and any other interested parties for their views on possible reform.
“We will consult widely within the legal sector and conduct research to identify what needs to change to improve the accessibility of the civil system and reduce costs,” Cashman said.
Reform of the civil law system should come as good news to all parties involved, he said.
“I don’t think anyone has a vested interest in cases taking a long time to be heard and costing a lot of money, so I would like to think there would be a considerable degree of support for the Commission’s proposals.”
The findings of the year-long review may form part of a more detailed review in the near future.
“Hopefully we’ll come up with some specific proposals in the short term, not just an agenda for reform in the long term.”
Cashman was also founding director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, joint commissioner in charge of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into class actions in 1986 and 1987, and has lectured in civil litigation at the University of Sydney.