Changes to improve access to justice and make it easier to bring class actions for silicosis, wage theft and other forms of wrongdoing are now law, thanks to the Andrews Labor Government.
The Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Act 2019 paves the way for class actions – including cases of silicosis and wage theft – by ensuring claimants don’t face the burden of legal costs if unsuccessful.
This new legislation allows the Victorian Supreme Court to order that plaintiff lawyers in class actions receive what is in effect a “contingency fee” – a fee that is calculated as a percentage of the settlement or damages.
These reforms are the result of independent advice and recommendations from the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC), which found the state’s class action regime is underutilised, with an average of five or less class actions filed per year.
The VLRC found the risks associated with class actions could be reduced by allowing lawyers to receive a percentage of any amount recovered in the proceedings for their legal costs, in return for indemnifying the representative plaintiff for the other side’s costs.
Three independent bodies – the VLRC, the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Productivity Commission – have recommended the introduction of contingency fees for class actions, despite them historically being prohibited in Australia.
The Act also expands IBAC’s powers to include the ability to arrest a potential witness suspected of corrupt activity if they believe they are at risk of leaving Victoria.
IBAC will be able to apply to the Supreme Court for a warrant to arrest a potential witness who IBAC believes on reasonable grounds is about to leave the jurisdiction, evading service of a summons to appear before IBAC or unlikely to comply with a summons to appear before IBAC.
It also includes important safeguards to ensure these new powers are used appropriately and that they are only used when IBAC suspects a witness has committed corrupt conduct, which includes committing a serious criminal offence.
The Act makes minor and technical amendments to various justice Acts to clarify and simplify their operation.
As noted by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy
“We are removing barriers to class actions to allow people with genuine claims-who may not be in a position to take on the financial risks of a case-to bring their class actions to the court.”
“Class actions play a critical role in our justice system and it’s important that people with meritorious claims are provided with every opportunity to have their matter heard.”
“We’re improving access to justice for ordinary Victorians by making it easier to bring class actions for silicosis, wage theft, consumer harm and other forms of corporate wrongdoing.”