Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 10 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 3799..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
I also disagree that the plaintiff should have to pay a financial penalty to the territory. This is a very strange provision. Why should the territory benefit from the abuse of legal process while the defendant is only entitled to indemnity costs? Indemnity costs do not fully compensate a defendant. They do not account for personal time and resources expended. They do not make up for lack of sleep. They do not compensate for stress and medical expenses. Punitive and exemplary damages should be spelt out in this act. If the government sticks to this scheme, perhaps it could direct any funds collected by this process into an account which is able to be accessed by the Environmental Defenders Office or a similarly appropriate public advocacy organisation.
Finally, in regard to amendment No 7, I do not agree with the Attorney-General that existing court rules adequately provide for striking out SLAPP suits or the imposition of penalties for lawyers who lodge or file pleadings in relation to unmeritorious damages claims. The courts have been extremely unwilling to punish lawyers who argue cases that have no reasonable prospect of success. The Law Society and JACS both paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the probity and trustworthiness of litigation lawyers. I am afraid most people do no share that view. Many litigation lawyers are exemplary and praiseworthy professionals, but not all. My Greens colleague in the South Australian parliament, Mark Parnell, was one of the architects of the bill before the Assembly today. He is a very experienced lawyer, and he says that most people do not fully appreciate that lawyers, or at least many lawyers in Adelaide, are simply guns for hire who will do whatever their clients ask of them regardless of the merits of the case.
I maintain my view that the bill should include clear guidance to the court of the Assembly's intention that unmeritorious SLAPP actions should result in appropriate financial penalties for the plaintiff and professional disciplinary actions for the lawyers involved. I welcome the review in 2012. I think that should be an important part of every new piece of legislation, and I hope that that review will show that the legislation has discouraged the imposition of SLAPP actions in the ACT.
Amendments agreed to.
Clauses 1 to 10, as amended, agreed to.
Dictionary agreed to.
MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (5.03): I move amendment No 1 circulated in my name [see schedule 1 at page 3869].
Given the substantive amendments that have been made to this bill, it is appropriate to amend the title to provide for a new, more concise title that reflects the nature of the bill as it has now been amended.
Amendment agreed to.