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Lawyers face personal litigation costs

Lawyers will soon face the prospect of personal costs against them if they fail to ensure litigation is conducted as quickly and inexpensively as possible in the Federal Court, Attorney-General…

Lawyers will soon face the prospect of personal costs against them if they fail to ensure litigation is conducted as quickly and inexpensively as possible in the Federal Court, Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced on Wednesday.

In an address to the Victorian Bar, McClelland announced that the Access to Justice (Civil Litigation Reforms) Amendment Bill 2009 will soon be introduced into Parliament to ensure that cases in the Federal Court are resolved by the simplest means possible.

"Our aim with these changes is to ensure that problems such as protracted commercial actions, unreasonably high costs to litigants and competing demands on the resources of the Federal Court are appropriately addressed," he said.

The amendments will introduce an overarching obligation on the court, litigations and lawyers to ensure disputes are resolved as efficiently and inexpensively as possible - similar to a provision that already exists in NSW state legislation.

In addition, the court's cost powers will be codified, allowing it to take into account the failure of legal practitioners to observe this obligation when awarding costs. Specifically, it will be empowered to order personal costs against a lawyer or to provide that the lawyer has no right to be reimbursed by their client.

"It will be clear that the court, litigants and practitioners are expected to conduct litigation effectively. And over time, encourage a cultural shift in the approach taken to resolving disputes," he said.

McClelland said the amendments were aimed particularly at large, complicated disputes and he pointed to the recent Bell Group dispute which he said cost taxpayers $6.19 million and ran for 400 days.

"This is an important reform," McClelland said. "It will enable the court to more effectively manage large litigation. It will be particularly useful in complex cases involving technical, financial or accountancy issues," he said.

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