In 2006, the Attorney-General asked the Commission to identify objectives and principles that should guide the reform of the rules of civil procedure.
The review was conducted under the guidance of full-time Commissioner Professor Peter Cashman. The Commission released a consultation paper in September 2006 and received 62 submissions in response to that paper.
In June 2007, the Commission released its first set of draft reform proposals and received 32 responses.
A second set of draft reform proposals was released in September 2007 and the Commission received a further 19 responses.
The Commission conducted extensive consultations and made a number of in-court visits to observe Victorian civil justice in practice.
The Commission identified a number of ‘priority’ areas for detailed investigation. These were examined in light of key goals of the civil justice system. The Commission also considered existing jurisdiction, workload and organisation of the courts and many other factors.
The final report was tabled in Parliament on 28 May 2008. The Commission made 177 reform recommendations to reduce the cost, complexity and length of civil trials.
The report suggests areas for future law reform and identifies changes which will reduce the cost, complexity and length of civil trials. The major recommendations included:
- the introduction of, and future expansion of, pre-action requirements for communication and exchange of information
- improving the standards of conduct of participants in civil litigation
- more alternative dispute resolution
- facilitating more proactive judicial management of litigation
- new mechanisms to facilitate earlier and more cost effective methods of disclosure
- enhancing judicial control over expert witnesses and expert evidence
- improving remedies in class actions
- greater assistance to self-represented litigants
- more funding for interpreter services in civil proceedings
- curtailing unmeritorious claims and defences and vexatious litigation
- greater access to justice through the establishment of a new funding body - the Justice Fund
- rationalising costs
- ongoing civil justice review and reform including through the establishment of a new body – the Civil Justice Council.
In 2010, the new Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic) was introduced. The Civil Procedure Act implements many of the Commission’s recommendations.
The Act aims to facilitate the ‘just, efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of the real issues in dispute’. Its key reforms include:
- introduce an overarching purpose for the courts and overarching obligations for participants in litigation,
- strengthen the courts’ case management powers, including in relation to expert evidence and costs,
- clarify the courts’ power to control discovery and to refer proceedings to appropriate dispute resolution
- simplify and liberalise the test for summary judgment.
For more information about the Act and an executive summary see Civil Procedure Act 2010 - A Brief Introduction.