IOOF has had its recent brush with a whistle-blower squarely taken before a Parliamentary Committee with plaintiff law firm, Maurice Blackburn, citing the matter as a reason for amendments to whistle-blowing legislation.
In doing so, the law firm has argued that further legislative amendments should be implemented to protect both the whistle-blowers and their lawyers, in circumstances where it alleged IOOF had used legal tactics to restrain the law firm.
It said that alleged wrongdoers should be prevented from suing whistle-blowers or their lawyers in circumstances where the whistle-blower had provided incriminating confidential information to lawyers in litigation against the alleged wrongdoer.
“In AG Australia Holdings v Burton and Anor (2002), a whistle-blower was sued for talking to class action lawyers for shareholders in breach of a confidentiality agreement,” the Maurice Blackburn submission said. “Burton has had a chilling effect on whistle-blowers in the context of civil litigation, with lawyers understandably now very reticent to talk to whistle-blowers.”
“It is contrary to the interests of justice for wrongdoers to be protected from the consequences of unlawful behaviour in this way, and the recent IOOF matter illustrates how Burton is being abused,” the submission claimed.
“In this case, the whistle-blower sent incriminating documents to [the Australian Securities and Investments Commission] ASIC, Senators and Fairfax Media and subsequently provided these documents to Maurice Blackburn at the time when our lawyers were investigating a potential class action on behalf of shareholders in IOOF against the company for breaches of the Corporations Act,” it said.
“IOOF sued Maurice Blackburn to restrain it from acting in the class action but did not pursue the whistle-blower or Fairfax Media. It seems clear that the true purpose of the suit was to avoid the class action, or at least to frustrate it, and to increase the costs involved in its pursuit, in an attempt to mitigate IOOF’s liabilities to its shareholders.”