The courts are to be given more power to curb "mega-litigation" - as seen in cases such as the Bell liquidation and C7 - under new legislation introduction into Parliament by Attorney-General Robert McClelland on Monday.
The Access to Justice (Civil Litigation Reforms) Amendment Bill 2009 introduces targeted reforms to reduce the cost of litigation and minimise unnecessary court delays.
"The bill will make clear that the court, litigants and their representatives are expected to conduct litigation efficiently," McClelland said.
"Cases like the Bell liquidation and C7 show the need for courts to have strong powers to ensure that public resources are used responsibly and that justice is accessible to all Australians."
Beefed-up case management powers are the centrepiece of the legislation. A new section, 37M, will provide support to judges so they can employ active case management powers.
In the explanatory memorandum, the Attorney-General said the section was a response to public concerns about "mega-litigation".
"This provision is intended to be a reminder to litigants that costs should be proportionate to the matter in dispute. It is not only the cost to the parties that is relevant."
The bill also introduces a range of measures to expedite court proceedings, with section 37N imparting an obligation on all parties to facilitate the resolution of disputes as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.
The court will also be given powers to impose cost penalties on parties and their lawyers who fail to comply with this duty.
"These reforms are essential in enabling federal courts to deliver a fair, effective and affordable service to litigants," McClelland said.
The bill will amend the Federal Court Act to introduce the case management and procedural reforms.
- Laura MacIntyre