Jim’s Mowing franchisee has small win in lockdown battle with Vic government

Jim’s Mowing has won a bid to have its legal challenge to Victoria’s lockdown heard separately to six other businesses.

Jim’s Mowing founder Jim Penman is bankrolling his franchisee Steve Thompson in a compensation claim against the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) after losing more than $24,000 during last year’s lockdown.

That case is among seven before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which heard from all parties on Wednesday about whether they should be heard all together on the preliminary question of whether chief health officer Brett Sutton had sufficient grounds to authorise the use of his emergency powers.

DHHS barrister Phoebe Knowles argued the seven cases should be heard jointly on that threshold question, as they would cover the same or similar grounds.

However, Ben Petrie, for Jim’s Mowing franchisee Steve Thompson, objected to having the seven cases heard together, arguing there was no guarantee it would save the tribunal or the parties time or money.

Jim’s Mowing franchisee has small win in lockdown battle with Vic government

Camera IconJim’s Mowing franchisee Steve Thompson is fighting the government at VCAT over last year's Covid-19 lockdown. Andrew Henshaw / NCA NewsWire Credit: News Corp Australia

The seven cases initiated legal action after their compensation bids were rejected by the DHHS secretary, who determined the chief health officer had grounds for authorising the use of his powers in ordering the lockdown.

During the legal argument, Mr Petrie foreshadowed a bid to seek an “awfully large quantity of documents” from the health department in a bid to determine what the authorisation was.

“That’s going to go down, in my submission, a likely different path to the other parties,” he argued.

“By combining all the matters together in my submission, it’s not going to improve efficiency. It will likely add a significant burden placed on the other parties.”

However, Ms Knowles accused Mr Petrie of a “very broad fishing expedition” in seeking the documents, saying it would total thousands of pages, and his bid would likely be objected to.

Jim’s Mowing franchisee has small win in lockdown battle with Vic government

Camera IconThe seven cases, including Jim’s Mowing, will return to the tribunal on July 9. Credit: News Corp Australia

After hearing from the parties, VCAT deputy president Heather Lambrick ruled she would not consolidate the cases at this point, as she was not persuaded it would save time and costs.

However, Ms Lambrick added there was scope to hear arguments together in future.

She also said if Jim’s Mowing ran its case as a test claim, the other parties may decide to wait and see the outcome before proceeding.

The matters were adjourned for further mention on July 9.

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