In Cairncross v Anderson  NSWSC 258, Justice Button was asked to summarily dismiss a negligence claim against a solicitor on the basis that it was doomed to fail by virtue of the solicitors having taken the defence of advocates’ immunity. The negligence is said to have arisen in the course of the Great Southern proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria. In the course of the decision which the Court made yesterday to put the strike-out motion on ice, part-heard pending the High Court’s judgment, the judge had to assess the likelihood of the law changing. This is what he said:
- First, a reading of the transcript of the special leave hearing establishes that (to use a phrase that I used in discussion with the parties at the hearing) there is a “reasonable circumstantial case” that the High Court will undertake a “root and branch” reconsideration of the immunity.
- Secondly, the parties respectfully predicted that the hearing of the appeal in the High Court would take place in March 2016, and that one might expect a judgment some months after that. Indeed, as at today the hearing in that Court has concluded, and one may respectfully expect a judgment shortly.
- In other words, I think it quite possible that the fundamental legal principles that underpinned the motion placed before me could be subject of significant revision by the ultimate court of this nation within three months or so, and within six months of the hearing of the motion.
I certainly hope that the immunity is abolished or greatly reduced in scope. I am sick of charging people with good cases against litigation lawyers money to tell them that they should not sue, or that if they choose to sue there is a risk that their claim will be struck out with costs.
Just the other day, the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that a solicitor who failed to tell his client the trial date, failed to prepare any evidence or arguments, failed to brief counsel to appear, and failed to turn up, so that the case proceeded undefended, unbeknown to the client, and the client lost catastrophically, was protected by the immunity in respect of that conduct. The immunity has been held to extend to intentional torts, fraudulent conduct, and a failure to tell a client about a settlement offer which went unaccepted and turned out to be a lot better than the result obtained at trial.