Lawyers put on no­tice over ques­tions

The Weekend Australian - - BUSINESS - BEN BUT­LER IN­QUIRIES

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.

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