Friday, August 1, 2014

Recent (2014) discovery amendments to the Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic)

The Justice Legislation Amendment (Discovery, Disclosure and Other Matters) Act 2014 (Vic) was given Royal Asset on 8 April 2014, and amends the Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic) (the "CPA"). The amendments mainly concern document management in the discovery process.

Click here for the link to the Explanatory Memorandum.

Click here for the link to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Discovery, Disclosure and Other Matters) Act 2014.

The amending legislation does the following to the CPA:
  • It gives a court power to order parties to prepare a statement of issues, which may be used for many purposes including discovery (ss50 and 50A).
  • It gives a court power to give directions limiting the obligation of discovery to a class or classes of documents or to documents relating to one or more specified facts or issues in dispute (s55(2)(c)).
  • It gives a court power to order a party to pay a specified amount to another party in relation to the costs of discovery, including by way of payment in advance or as costs in the proceeding (s55(4) and (5)).
  • It gives the court power, on consent of the parties, to give over all documents in that party's possession or control, on the basis that privilege is not waived (s55A).
  • It gives the court power to order a party to provide an affidavit of document management, including details of the volume or location of discoverable documents, the way the documents are arranged or stored, or the party's document management processes more generally (s55B).
  • It gives the court power to order oral examination of a deponent of an affidavit of document management or another appropriate person who is able to provide information about the matters in the affidavit (s55C).
The amendments relating to discovery are novel, and reflect the increasing need for proper document management and the kind of document management processes. The purpose of the amendments, expressed in the Explanatory Memorandum, is:
[T]o ensure that the courts, parties and legal practitioners are using appropriate tools to reduce the costs and delays associated with the discovery process, for example by more clearly defining the issues in dispute, considering document management issues prior to undertaking discovery, and limiting the scope of discovery requests.
The amendment that allows a party to hand over all of its documents and maintain privilege is a method used in large-scale litigation where it is considered too onerous for a party to wade through millions of documents to extract privileged and irrelevant documents. Of course, the risk of agreeing to this kind of order is that once a document is seen, it cannot be unseen. On the other hand, this sort of order may avoid the kind of extreme satellite litigation that occurred in the recent High Court of Australia decision of Expense Reduction Analysts Group Pty Ltd v Armstrong Strategic Management and Marketing Pty Limited (2013) 303 ALR 199. There, a party inadvertently discovered and produced 13 documents because of errors made in a large and complex discovery process, and the opposing party refused to return them. The discovery dispute started in the New South Wales Supreme Court, then went to the Court of Appeal, and then on to the High Court.

This is the sort of balancing exercise the Court and the parties will need to engage in when considering this kind of order, in light of the overarching purpose to facilitate the just, efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of the real issues in dispute (CPA, s7).

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