The Victorian Coalition Government has today introduced legislation into Parliament to give courts greater scope to curb the excessive use or misuse of expert evidence in trials, streamline procedural requirements, improve costs disclosure and make simpler and more flexible costs orders.
“This Bill is a further demonstration of the Coalition Government’s commitment to work with the courts to enable rights to be upheld and disputes to be resolved as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Attorney-General, Robert Clark said.
Under the reforms, parties in the Supreme and County Courts will be required to seek directions from the court whenever expert evidence may be used at trial, unless the court rules otherwise provide. The Magistrates’ Court will have the power to make rules requiring parties to seek similar directions.
The court will be able to give whatever directions it thinks appropriate about the use of expert evidence, including limiting it to specified issues, limiting the number of experts that may be called, ordering two or more experts to confer or produce a joint report, ordering two or more experts to give their evidence in court concurrently and allowing experts to ask questions of each other.
If the court considers justified, the court will also be able to order that the parties jointly engage a single expert, or that a court expert be appointed to assist.
Further reforms will give the court the power to require an expert witness to disclose to other parties some or all of the terms on which the expert has been engaged. This is intended to allow other parties to find out if an expert has been engaged on a contingency fee or other basis that might tend to bias the expert’s evidence.
Other reforms in the Bill will give the courts power to require lawyers to tell their clients what their costs to date have been and what the likely future costs might be. This is designed to allow clients to make fully informed decisions about whether to settle or proceed with a case.
The Bill will also give courts the power to make simpler costs orders, such as an order for a specified dollar amount or that parties share costs in specified proportions, instead of requiring a lengthy and costly item by item costs assessment. Courts will also have power to fix or limit the amount of recoverable costs in advance of a trial.
Further reforms will remove the requirement for parties who are frequently involved in litigation to certify repeatedly in each new piece of litigation that they understand their legal obligations, and will allow insurers to give the necessary certification when they are conducting the litigation on behalf of their client.
Mr Clark thanked all members of the Civil Procedure Advisory Group who had contributed to the development of the reforms.