Improving Access To Justice For Class Actions

The Andrews Labor Government is improving access to justice and making it easier to bring class actions for silicosis, wage theft and other forms of wrongdoing – under new legislation before the Parliament.

The Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2019 will pave the way for class actions – including cases of silicosis and wage theft – to proceed where they otherwise may not have been viable.

The changes will allow lawyers to receive a ‘contingency fee’, a fee that is calculated as a percentage of the settlement of damages. This change was recommended by Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) Access to Justice report.

Class actions are an important tool in our justice system, as they allow a case with six or more plaintiffs, to combine their action. Class actions provide vulnerable groups such as workers and consumers to access lawyers to bring cases against corporations for wrongdoing.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission found that class actions are underutilised because plaintiffs fear that they will face the burden of legal costs if the matter is unsuccessful. This acts as a deterrent to ordinary people bringing cases against big corporations.

These changes will allow lawyers to indemnify the lead plaintiff to remove the fear and risk of adverse costs, if the class action is unsuccessful.

Three independent bodies have recommended these changes be made, including the Victorian Law Reform Commission. Contingency fees have historically been prohibited in Australia. However, three independent bodies, including the VLRC, have all recommended that the ban be lifted.

Additionally, the Bill will make minor and technical amendments to various justice Acts to clarify and simplify their operation.

Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Jill Hennessy

“These reforms will improve access to justice by reducing barriers to commencing class actions in the Victorian Supreme 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.”

“It’s not fair for a lead plaintiff to individually bear the cost risks of a class action matter. The reforms will ensure that plaintiff lawyers indemnify the lead plaintiff for any adverse costs orders.”