Victims Of 2003 Wary Of Fire Trial
Stacks is fighting for justice for victims of the 2003 Canberra bushfire in the ACT Supreme Court. Stacks Goulburn lawyer Mark Howard is representing more than 100 victims of the fire in a mammoth legal compensation case which began on March 1 and is expected to take three months.
This story in the Canberra Times illustrates what Mark and his team are up against as they take on the ACT and NSW government for the fire victims:
BY NOEL TOWELL, CANBERRA TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER
19 Feb, 2010
Plaintiffs in the Canberra bushfires court case have lost a last-minute bid to delay the start of the historic trial which is due to begin next month.
In the ACT Supreme Court yesterday, lawyers acting for more than 600 plaintiffs who lost property in the January 2003 firestorm told Chief Justice Terence Higgins that the ACT Government’s legal team had ”sprung” vast amounts of evidence on them. At yesterday’s directions hearing, Rodney Smith SC, acting for QBE Insurance Group, told Chief Justice Higgins that among the dozens of witness statements filed by the Government’s legal team last week there were 18 expert witness documents with 14 of the statements from United States-based fire behaviour experts.
According to Mr Smith, some of the highly technical reports said the fire that destroyed homes in Chapman, Kambah and Duffy started in NSW and not in the ACT and that the defence would need more time to study and respond with their own witnesses. ”The volume of material the ACT has delivered simply makes it impossible for the plaintiffs to have a fair trial, to cope with those technical issues,” Mr Smith told the court. ”It’s too much material, it’s given too late and we simply can’t cope with it.”
But the Chief Justice, who has set aside three months to hear the case, was unsympathetic to Mr Smith’s argument and that of his colleague John Harris QC, acting for about 100 clients of Stacks Law Firm which specialises in the recovery of damages for personal injury, professional negligence, and work accidents, rejecting their application for an adjournment.
”It’s a fire, it destroyed houses and it doesn’t matter if it started in New South Wales or in New Zealand,” Chief Justice Higgins said.