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Ignorance may not be bliss

Litigation: 22 March 2019

A recent case in which we acted for a waste management company demonstrated that even when you think you are doing the right thing, that may not be the case.

The waste management company had processes in place where it reported to the Council when trucks entered a waste site with overweight loads. Our client was at that stage unaware that there was a secondary requirement - VicRoads were to be notified when this occurred pursuant to the Road Safety Act - an oversight which gave rise to potential fines of around $1.6m.

As a clear indication of its failure to understand that it had breached the law, the company's employees were encouraged to assist VicRoads in an investigation which led to VicRoads charging the company with 145 counts of breaching the Road Safety Act. Each count had a possible fine in excess of $11,000. While it was unlikely the Court would hand out fines for $1.6m, there was a substantial risk that the aggregate fines may have been in the order of $100,000 to $200,000.

Had we been involved in the creation and implementation of appropriate systems to ensure compliance with the law, then it is unlikely the company would have been prosecuted at all.

Fortunately, we were able to work with the company in relation to the prosecutions with the result that the Court only imposed an aggregate fine of $3,000 plus $600 costs.

The company is now reviewing all of its policies with an eye to ensuring it complies with all the relevant legal regulations.

The lessons to take away are:

  • talk to us about your business so we can advise you about compliance with relevant laws, including legislation of which you may not be aware;
  • if you are approached by officials or investigative teams, do not answer questions until you have taken the opportunity to consult with us (as your lawyers); and
  • if you find yourself in the situation where employees have provided information to investigators and the company may be at risk of prosecution, appropriate damage control needs to be swift and well advised.

Aitken Partners has a team of lawyers with experience in a wide range of industries which can assist to ensure you are complying with the various laws relevant to your business operations. Naturally, if any enquiries or investigations are already underway, the sooner you contact us, the sooner we can help you get on the right track. 

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