Law fees admission in Banksia case

By Geoff Adams

A prominent lawyer involved in legal actions following the failure of Banksia Securities has told a court he will not defend allegations he had overcharged for his services.

Senior Counsel Norman O'Bryan abandoned his defence in the Supreme Court on Monday, to the surprise of many people in the legal fraternity.

Under examination in the court is the $12 million in commission a litigation funder received and $4 milion in legal fees.

At stake is a share of the remaining $25 million in funds generated by the wind-up of Banksia Securities.

The surprise development came eight years after the Banksia Group collapsed, owing debenture holders, many in the Goulburn Valley, $663 million.

Debenture holders took the trustee to court to recover losses, which was eventually settled, but one of the debenture holders challenged the settlement and in particular, the commissions and legal costs charged.

This week's surprise concession followed the court appointment of an investigator into the fees charged, called a contradictor.

In a shock admission during a civil trial on Monday, Mr O’Bryan’s barrister, David Batt QC, said his client would no longer defend the allegations against him, acknowledging he should be removed from the roll of legal practitioners.

Mr Batt conveyed Mr O'Bryan's "deep regret at his actions" .

The judge presiding over the trial, Justice Dixon, had earlier warned:

“One thing that has troubled me in listening to all of this is the question of whether certain parties are fit and proper persons to remain on the roll of practitioners in this court,” Justice Dixon said last week.

“I have certain powers in relation to that question … I will, if I remain troubled by this, be inviting the parties to make submissions as to procedure and substance on that issue at a later point in time.”

The civil trial is continuing in the Supreme Court.