The class action battleground of 2020 – Andrew Watson
In this year when there were so many other important things on which to focus, the intense political and ideological battle waged on the Australian class action regime
Australia has a fair and effective class actions system which has delivered access to justice and billions in compensation to millions of Australians over the life of the regime. So it is disappointing that in this year when there were so many other important things on which to focus, the intense political and ideological battle waged on the Australian class action regime by some conservative politicians and the powerful business interests they represent continued.
At a time when Government and community resources everywhere are required to address the needs of a global health and economic crisis, it has been appalling to see some business lobbyists wage an opportunistic war against class actions seeking to exploit the pandemic by pushing an agenda which will lower corporate governance standards, reduce accountability for wrongdoing and reduce transparency in the market. It is an even greater pity to see the Federal Government accede to that agenda.
Rather than implement the advice and recommendations of independent reports by the Productivity Commission, the Victorian Law Reform Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission, the Federal Government decided to implement changes aimed at restricting access to justice, water down continuous disclosure laws and hastily convene a Parliamentary Inquiry into the very same issues which the independent inquiries had addressed. Government members of that committee have shown themselves to be partisan and uninterested in the evidence of the benefits of class actions for claimants and for corporate governance. Sadly it is clear this Parliamentary Inquiry is designed not with a view to deliver good policy but in search of a political outcome.
We have seen signs of progress in other quarters. The Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2019 (Vic) commenced operation on 1 July 2020, permitting contingency fees in class actions in the Supreme Court of Victoria. This legislation follows the recommendations of the three independent agencies (the Productivity Commission, the Victorian Law Reform Commission, and the Australian Law Reform Commission) who each found that contingency fees would deliver increased access to justice and lower costs for class action members.
Next year will continue to pose challenges to the legal sector and to society more broadly. We at Maurice Blackburn will do all we can to ensure that Australia’s system remains fair and effective and that we continue delivering compensation for the victims of mass wrongs by holding corporate wrongdoers to account.
It has been an extraordinary year. Let’s hope 2021 is so much better (for society generally and for the debate around class actions).
Andrew WatsonNational Head of Class Actions, Class actions, Melbourne
"I'm an experienced litigator in class actions, particularly for shareholders who have been victims of corporate misconduct."
Ben SladeState Managing Principal, Office Leader, Class actions, Sydney
"I am driven to give a voice to those who would otherwise have to suffer because those who have done them wrong are all too powerful."
Kimi NishimuraPrincipal Lawyer, Class actions, Melbourne
"I'm committed to fighting for the rights of victims of corporate misconduct as well as pursuing compensation on behalf of my clients."
Rebecca GilsenanExecutive Director, Principal Lawyer, Class actions, Sydney
"I have extensive experience in running complex and novel litigation, including class actions in the areas of price fixing, failed investment schemes, product liability and securities."
Miranda NagyPrincipal Lawyer, Class actions, Sydney
"I have a strong conviction that the community should be able to expect our governments and the companies we deal with to comply with the law."
Julian SchimmelPrincipal Lawyer, Class actions, Sydney
"Class actions are a unique legal mechanism that have helped hundreds of thousands of people receive compensation after mistreatment at the hands of powerful companies, and it’s gratifying to help people get access to justice when otherwise it would’ve been difficult for them."
Vavaa MawuliPrincipal, Class actions, Brisbane
"The most rewarding thing about my work is the change in scale of what we are able to accomplish."