Mercieca & Anor v SPI Electricity Pty Ltd & Ors (No 3) [2012] VSC 6 (3 February 2012) is another judgement in the Black Saturday litigation.  The case arising from the Beechworth fire was set down for a hearing to commence on 20 February.  This was an application by the plaintiffs to adjourn that trial for six weeks to allow them to consider various reports that had been served upon them by the defendant.  Dixon J summed up the basis for the application:

The plaintiffs invite me to accept that their trial preparation is compromised by:

(a) the need for substantial further expert evidence because of the withdrawal by SPI Electricity of the admission;(b) late disclosure by SPI Electricity of the questions and materials to be provided to its electrical experts;

(c) late disclosure by SPI Electricity of an additional electrical expert;

(d) late service of SPI Electricity’s principal expert report by Professor Russell;

(e) recent delayed disclosure by SPI Electricity that relevant sections of the conductor had been removed from the site to a CSIRO laboratory; and

(f) discovery issues, particularly the provision by the State Parties of what was described as the majority of its discovery just before Christmas 2011.

The plaintiffs contend these considerations warrant the conclusion that a fair trial is not possible for the plaintiffs without at least a further six weeks of preparation time.

It was agreed that some of the delays were occasioned by the failure of SPI to serve Professor Russell’s report in accordance with the court ordered timetable.

His Honour was bound to make orders that would do justice for all the parties.  After a lengthy consideration of all the matters he refused to adjourn the case for six weeks, but did adjourn it for two.  The trial will now commence on 5 March 2012.  It will be very interesting to see if we get a judgement from the litigation arising from the 2009 Black Saturday fires before the ACT Supreme Court hands down a judgement from the 2003 Canberra fires!

Michael Eburn
14 February 2012.