“Since the abolition of capital punishment there is now no mistake by a lawyer in Australia that cannot be effectively reversed.”
Or so I was told long ago after a bad day in the office as an articled clerk.
My supervising partner had in mind the slip rule.
The slip rule is the rule that allows courts to correct minor glitches in their own judgments and orders without the trouble and expense of an appellate court’s intervention.
The slip rule is within courts’ inherent jurisdiction but it is also succinctly expressed in most courts’ own rules — see for example Federal Court rule 39.05 and, in Victoria, Supreme Court rule 36.07; Magistrates’ Court rule 36.08 and VCAT Act s 119.
But the slip rule has its limits.
I was reminded of this over the Christmas break by a Retail Tenancies List decision – Versus (Aus) Pty Ltd v ANH Nominees Pty Ltd  VCAT 1908.
In late 2011 the tenant-applicant won an order totalling almost $245,000 against its landlord – see Versus (Aus) Pty Ltd v ANH Nominees Pty Ltd  VCAT 2273. In that case, after a 10-day hearing and a 62-page judgment, VCAT Vice-President Judge Lacava found that the landlord had failed to take reasonable steps to stop or prevent disruption to the tenant’s trading caused by, inter alia, a neighbour’s renovations.
The landlord duly paid up.
Almost a year later the tenant decided to go back to the well. It applied to VCAT under the slip rule for a further order which would have upped the original award by almost $96,000.
The application had three prongs.
Two were swiftly dealt with. Judge Lacava found both to require a total recalculation of damages in circumstances where the errors complained of and their consequences were “not readily identifiable.”
The third limb of the application was starker.
The landlord conceded that a typographical error (yes – a humble typo) in the original reasons had effectively cost the tenant $16,235. But it would not concede the slip rule application.
Quite right too ruled Judge Lacava.
He cited L Shaddock & Associates v City of Parramatta  151 CLR 590 to the effect that courts have a discretion when dealing with slip rule applications.
In my view, if there was an error capable of being corrected under s. 119 [of the VCAT Act dealing with slip rule applications], it ought to have been identified by the applicant and its accountants by the end of February 2012 at the latest and an application then made. That was not done. In my judgment, the delay in bringing this application for correction is unexplained and is too long. It is important that litigation be brought to an end. In this case, the respondent having promptly paid the amount of damages, it would be both inexpedient and inequitable for me to make the orders sought by the applicant in its further application dated 20 September 2012.
For these reasons, the applicant’s further application is dismissed.
Three occur to me:
- Try to get it right the first time;
- Don’t hang about when you (or the judge’s typist) muck it up; and
- Don’t believe everything supervising partners tell their underlings.