Thank you, Acting President.
I don’t propose to make a particularly long speech, but I do want to place on record the main reasoning of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party for our position on this Bill.
Mr Grimley and I have both received significant lobbying on the
legislation – and no-one would be surprised to hear me say that all of that lobbying has focused exclusively on issues related to contingency fees.
On each of the other components of the Bill, we happily concur with (I think) everybody else that they are completely uncontroversial changes.
I only wish our decision on contingency fees might have been so
There are actually many worthwhile arguments on both sides of this debate, and we have appreciated the time that a number of people have spent with us in order to talk us through the many and varied positions they collectively have on the legislation.
From among those views, we do accept the proposition that the current number of class actions in this State is low, and that there is a lot to be said for making such actions more accessible to many Victorians.
Recommendation 8 of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s ‘Access to Justice – Litigation Funding and Group Proceedings’ report of 2018 also speaks to the potential value of class actions that are more efficiently structured, too. Including as this relates to the introduction of contingency fees for lawyers.
However, Mr Grimley and I have also been presented with various alternative forms of evidence and argument that have left us concerned about the practical impacts of the establishment of a new regime under which lawyers can charge contingency fees.
Not the least of these is the High Court judgment in the Westpac v Lenthall case.
We also struggle to support this Bill when we look into it specifically from the perspective of many of the victims of crime that we feel we are in here to represent.
It’s difficult for us to see how those victims won’t be worse off (and, in some circumstances, considerably worse off) when we consider how much extra money they are now likely to be required to hand over to lawyers even when they happen to win their cases.
As others have said, the removal of the existing nationwide prohibition on law firms charging contingency fees is also not something that is currently supported by any other State or Territory in Australia, or the Commonwealth itself.
In turn, those problems are magnified by the wording of Recommendations 7, 12 and 13, in particular, in the same VLRC report to which I just referred. That report makes very clear that, even in those areas of law where (in principle) it supports the potential charging by lawyers of contingency fees, this is “a matter which should be developed nationally, in the interests of consistency”.
I would add, at this point, that this VLRC report should hardly be regarded as an outlier or rogue document of any kind. I say that, because it was (after all) specifically commissioned by the Victorian Government itself.
In the Justice Party, we do accept the notion that reaching interstate and/or national agreements is very difficult on this particular issue of contingency fees, because most (if not all) of the other jurisdictions have taken a very different position on this to Victoria. However, to us, that is actually a very instructive point in itself.
In turn, we very much appreciated some discussions we had with the
Attorney-General’s office about this – but we also unfortunately still feel some apprehension about the issue of how much of an expansion in court activity there might be in Victoria as a consequence of these proposed changes.
In our view, there is already far too much clogging of the court system in this State as it is – without potentially subjecting the existing system to a new set of very large and intensive cases. Especially ones that sometimes might otherwise have been heard in another part of the country.
There is currently a comprehensive Federal inquiry process underway, the results of which will likely inform that important national… and nationally consistent… approach about which the VLRC itself spoke.
Acting President, Given the reason’s I have just outlined, Mr Grimley and will be voting against this Bill.
And we would hope that the Government would hit the pause button on introducing the changes in relation to contingency fees that are such a key element of it.
We hope they do that at the very least until, as the VLRC has explicitly recommended, there is some meaningful agreement and consistency between the Victorian approach and the one followed by governments elsewhere in Australia.