August 29, 2006
The timber company Gunns Ltd has been given a fourth chance to plead its case in a multimillion-dollar damages claim against environmentalists.
Justice Bernard Bongiorno yesterday struck out the current 221-page claim, saying it made too many claims against too many defendants in the one proceeding.
He also pointed to difficulties it caused for those sued in understanding the case against them, and the likely cost.
But Justice Bongiorno gave the company until October 19 to ask the court if it could bring another claim. If it did not, the 20 environmental groups and individuals the company had sued could make claims for costs.
Giving his judgement in the Victorian Supreme Court, Justice Bongiorno said Gunns had made serious allegations about conduct by some individuals, some of which could amount to criminal offences.
He said it would be unjust to deny Gunns the opportunity to bring its allegations in an intelligible form. But it was legally embarrassing for defendants to have to grapple with the 714-paragraph claim, which apparently was accompanied by another 2217 paragraphs of additional information, he said.
In an action seeking more than $6 million damages, Gunns sued environmentalists, including Greens leader Bob Brown, his Tasmanian counterpart, Peg Putt, and Wilderness Society national campaign director Alec Marr.
The action also named the Wilderness Society, the Huon Valley Environment Centre and Doctors For Native Forests.
Gunns claimed it was hurt financially and in its reputation, and that some defendants were conspiring against it.
Gunns said it would continue its efforts to sue. Chief executive John Gay said: "We've got the answer we wanted."