On 22 March 2023, the Supreme Court of Queensland issued Practice Direction No. 8 of 2023 which introduces a new procedure for the management of representative proceedings (also known as class actions) in Queensland. The Practice Direction marks a key reform of the Queensland class actions regime and more closely aligns it with other jurisdictions.
The class actions regime in Queensland commenced on 1 March 2017 and is relatively new compared to its interstate and Federal counterparts. The Federal Court enacted a procedure for class actions in 1991. Victoria and NSW followed suit in 2000 and 2010, respectively.
Given the Queensland regime has been in its formative stages from a process perspective, it is unsurprising that a total of only nine class actions were filed in Queensland from 2017 to 2019, compared to 93 in Victoria, 61 in New South Wales and 471 in the Federal Court. There are currently 4 class actions on foot in Queensland.
Class actions are usually large and complex, and involve numerous interlocutory disputes (such as whether the threshold requirements for a contemplated class action have been met). The Federal Court has traditionally been an attractive forum for class actions given it has a well-developed practice of early and close case management hearings and court oversight.
Practice Direction No. 8 of 2023 reflects the maturation of the Queensland regime. That Practice Direction was both issued and commenced operation on 22 March 2023, and repeals Practice Direction No. 2 of 2017. The most prominent update made by the Practice Direction to the Queensland model is the creation of a Class Actions List. Under the Practice Direction:
- the List is managed by two judges with the assistance of a Class Actions List Manager;
- all class actions in the Court's jurisdiction have been allocated to the List and assigned to a Class Actions List Judge to manage and determine all interlocutory applications until the proceeding is ready for trial;
- a trial judge will be allocated to conduct the trial of any common questions that may arise. If necessary, the Class Actions List Judge may make directions for the determination of any remaining questions following the trial;
- a detailed procedure is prescribed for case conferences, the disclosure of any litigation funding agreement (with reasonable redactions of information permitted), interlocutory steps and disputes, mediation and notices to group members.
Each of the NSW, Victorian and Federal Court regimes have specialist lists or panels for class actions. The creation of a Class Actions List in Queensland more closely aligns Queensland with the NSW, Victorian and Federal Court regimes. The Practice Direction also highlights Queensland's close following of the NSW model, and some potentially important differences with the Victorian and Federal Court models, which include:
- in Victoria, the plaintiff's solicitor must disclose its costs agreement with the plaintiff to the Court and the other parties (with reasonable redactions of information that may confer a tactical advantage on the other parties permitted). In the Federal Court, this obligation extends only to disclosure to the Court. No such disclosure is required in Queensland;
- to notify the Court of, and manage any "competing" class actions that appear to overlap with the proceeding. No such notification is required in Queensland.
It is a new dawn for class actions in Queensland and it is anticipated that there will be an increase in class action firms considering commencement in the Queensland jurisdiction.
You can learn more about class actions generally by reading our FAQ article.