Commercial Law Update - Federal Court approves record settlement in Centro Class Action

Commercial Law
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On 19 June 2012, the Federal Court of Australia formally approved Australia’s largest ever settlement in a class action.

Members of List G Barristers featured prominently in the case that was into its tenth week of hearing before a settlement was reached.  Julian Burnside QC and Rachel Doyle SC were lead counsel for one group of applicants, and Peter Jopling QC was lead counsel for Centro Retail, which was defending the action.  Senior Juniors on the list, namely Richard Harris and Peter Wallis, appeared for Centro Property and Centro Retail respectively.  Finally, junior barrister Eddy Gisonda appeared for Centro Retail and Nina Moncrief for the former CFO.

The main allegations in the trial turned on whether Centro Property and Centro Retail breached their duties of continuous disclosure, and whether they engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct. The Centro interests, in turn, brought cross-claims against the auditors of the company accounts, PricewaterhouseCoopers, for breach of duty and other related causes of action.

The trial involved 15 lay witnesses, ranging from former directors and executives of the Centro Group, low-ranking employees, accounting and audit partners, and the named representative applicants. 

In addition, the trial involved complex questions that were the subject of expert evidence.  The hot tubs at trial (both completed and anticipated) dealt with such issues as accounting and auditing standards and practice, conditions in the financial market in the lead up to and throughout the GFC, the valuation of shares (including event-study analysis), and the forecasting of dividends per share.

The trial garnered much media attention, and Justice Gordon commended counsel for their tireless hard work throughout the trial, as well as their professionalism and the assistance they provided in presenting a case that involved over five separate proceedings, and 75 separate pleadings.

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Julian Burnside AO QC practises principally in commercial litigation, trade practices and administrative law

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