Lawyers put on notice over questions
High-powered QCs hired by Australia’s big banks will be severely limited in how much they can question the credibility of witnesses to the sector’s scandals who give evidence at the royal commission into financial services.
In a practice guideline published to its website, the commission said that “cross-examination of witnesses will be by leave only” and “repetitive questioning” would not be permitted.
“As the commission is conducting an inquiry, and not a judicial proceeding, cross-examination that raises collateral matters going only to credit will not be permitted,” it said.
The banking commission, helmed by former High Court judge Kenneth Hayne, begins on Monday but is already mired in confusion after being unable to clarify whether or not victims and employees should make submissions to it that break gag clauses in settlement deals.
Despite the commission’s inability to state a clear position on the issue, Australia’s big four banks on Thursday ruled out pursuing commission witnesses over breaches of nondisclosure agreements.
However, the Finance Sector Union yesterday demanded that the banks give written undertakings that there will be no reprisals against employees who give evidence.
“If the banks and the community are to benefit from the change this royal commission could bring to banking, then ‘whistleblowers’ inside the system must be encouraged to come forward,” FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said.
In other royal commission developments, the corporate regulator this week added former investment banker Mark Steele as senior counsel to represent it during proceedings, at a cost of almost $270,000 over the next five months.
This is on top of up to $2.1 million the Australian Securities & Investments Commission is spending with law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
ASIC is also using two other senior counsel: Melbourne’s Peter Collinson and Lisa Nicholls.
Malcolm Turnbull called the royal commission in November after receiving a request for the inquiry from the banks, which have been rocked by a series of scandals in divisions including financial planning, insurance and fixed interest trading.