Potential delay to fishers case
CORONAVIRUS has been one element that has disrupted lawyers’ ability to get their case together for the first class action case to be tried in a Queensland court, with a proposal to push the trial date back four months.
More than 150 seafood industry members from Queensland and New South Wales – from Bowen to Sydney – are seeking $100 million - $150 million from Gladstone Ports Corporation, saying works carried out by the corporation in the Gladstone Harbour about 2010 negatively impacted the water quality, fish health and fish numbers, which in turn impacted the industry members’ businesses.
The trial has been set down to start in April 2021 and take 11 weeks.
Lachlan Armstrong QC, for the plaintiffs, told the Supreme Court in Rockhampton on June 16 there had been difficulties in the past nine months with unexpected delays including accessing GPC’s disclosures and access to ‘lay’ witnesses.
He said 84 per cent of GPC’s disclosures were only handed over in December 2019, just before Christmas and Clyde & Co were left with a significant workload to conduct over the festive season and finished by early March.
Mr Armstrong said the firm then focused on dealing with witnesses.
Then the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the country going into lockdown mid to late March, requiring non-essential workers to work from home if possible.
“Everything has been severely disrupted,” Mr Armstrong said.
He said that impacted the plaintiffs’ lawyers in being able to contact witnesses and many fishermen were still working.
“It’s hard to get a hold of them (fishermen) at the best of times,” Mr Armstrong said.
The plaintiffs lodged an application for an extension of time, retrospectively, on May 28.
“As things stand at the moment, there are six affidavits that were served last year,” Mr Armstrong said.
He said there were another four filed this week and the remaining lay witness evidence would be filed by the end of next week, with the exception of two former GPC environmental officers as their evidence relied on a missing Day Book. Read here for more about the Day Book: Gladstone Ports Corp class action evidence ‘missing’
“The statements are very advanced,” Mr Armstrong said.
He proposed the plaintiffs would file the evidence from those two witnesses within four weeks after the disclosure of the day book by GPC.
Mr Armstrong said the next step would be to deliver the expert witness evidence, which would be affected by the delay in the delivery of the GPC hydrography model (the science of surveying and charting bodies of water) as it impacted the plaintiff’s hydrography expert.
Mr Armstrong said after contacting the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses recently, it was estimated there would be an eight-week delay between the delivery of the first group of expert evidence and the second group.
He said that would result in the plaintiffs’ need until mid-February 2021, to prepare evidence and only one month to reply to GPC’s evidence, leaving mediation to be completed by late May.
Mr Armstrong proposed the initial trial date of April 2021 to August 1, 2021.
Damien Clothier QC for GPC said: “The plaintiff is asking for all the time that it wants”.
“The time frame submitted by the plaintiff is not an adequate explanation of the delay to date,” he said.
“In early March, we were told the plaintiffs were optimistic of complying with the end of March (time frame).
“It appears the practice of the plaintiff is to seek forgiveness rather than permission.
“The plaintiffs need to do much better to get their case ready for trial.”
Justice Graeme Crow said he intended to have the judgement finished by next week.