The New South Wales government passed a number of new laws last week before the end of the parliamentary year.
The Keneally Labor government passed legislation in late November and early December that included reforms to the criminal trial process in sexual assault cases, provisions for sex offenders to be held in custody following the end of their sentence, updated elder abuse laws, passed legislation to promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and introduced legislation to simplify class action proceedings.
With only one NSW Parliamentary sitting day next year before the election on 26 March, many political pundits believe the rush of legislation before the end of the year was clearly designed with one eye on the polls.
Amendments to the NSW Civil Procedure Act 2005 mean that parties to a dispute need to show they have taken "reasonable steps" to resolve a dispute before litigation commences. These steps could include demonstrating that ADR methods were utilised or considered and the exchanging of information and documents.
The proposed changes to class action laws have been modeled on the Federal and Victorian laws, which NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said have proven to be a successful model.
"It [the proposed changes] will eliminate the lack of clarity in current NSW court rules which may be discouraging potential litigants from pursuing legitimate class actions," Hatzistergos said.
First introduced into the NSW Parliament in October, the new laws pave the way for the NSW Supreme Court to order an aggregate damages payment to be administered by a fund, and distributed to affected persons, with any money remaining in the fund after six months to be distributed to its "next best use". This could include related charities or community groups.
"I think the proposed Bill is a good example of public policy and would improve access to justice," the executive director of litigation funders IMF, John Walker, told Lawyers Weekly at the time.
Last Friday (3 December) Hatzistergos and the Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, also announced that a new community legal centre would be opened in Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast next year.