Allens Arthur Robinson, one of Australia’s largest law firms, has come in for a barrage of criticism over its conduct in the James Hardie controversy, including recommendations that it face court action for “negligence” and “deceit”.
Former senior partner Peter Cameron, the primary architect of the restructure which ultimately had the effect of depriving asbestos victims of adequate compensation, has come in for special mention, along with partner David Robb.
Mr Cameron, a high-flying mergers and acquisitions partner at Allens for 25 years, left the firm to become an investment banker in March 2002. He joined the board of the Dutch-based parent James Hardie NV late last year, where he is being paid board fees of $US63,333 a year ($100,000).
Yesterday, Allens’ managing partner, Tom Poulton, dismissed these “outrageous allegations” as “mischievous speculation”. The firm would deal with these matters, contained within various final submissions to the Jackson inquiry, on Friday, he said.
The strongest criticism of the firm is in a submission from 17 unions and asbestos victims support groups. However, counsel assisting the inquiry has also said that Allens failed to “exercise due skill and care”.
“Mr Robb and Mr Cameron were aware of the relevant facts (surrounding the restructure). It seems that they simply failed to advert to the significance of them,” the submission said.
Counsel assisting also submitted that when cross-examined about these matters, Mr Cameron and Mr Robb “had no effective answers”.
The Medical Research and Compensation Foundation, the body which holds the compensation money, said in a submission that there was a “prima facie case of non-disclosure of material matters to the Supreme Court”.
“This issue and the conduct of … David Robb and Peter Cameron should be referred to the Supreme Court for further investigation.” In addition the Australian arm of James Hardie has a cause of action against Allens “for misleading and deceptive conduct,” the submission said.
The union and victims support group submission states that the conduct of Allens “warrants the strongest criticism and enlivens a number of causes of action against the law firm”.