Victorian tobacco control groups are calling for a commission of inquiry with full powers to investigate the behavior of British American Tobacco (BAT) and its lawyers, following revelations appearing in The Age newspaper today.
Quit Victoria and the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control (VCTC) said that behavior of this kind by lawyers, as detailed in the article, smears the credibility of the entire legal system.
The VCTC's Director of Law and Regulation, Mr Jonathan Liberman, said if lawyers behave in this way and go unpunished, the community could have no faith in the justice system.
"Lawyers are supposed to protect the integrity of the legal system, not abuse it."
"Every lawyer knows that they have a legal and professional responsibility to the court, which includes duties of honesty and candour. These lawyers appear to have been willing to say and do almost anything to protect their own, and their clients' interests."
The groups have renewed calls for an inquiry into the behaviour of British American Tobacco, which destroyed thousands of documents that would have been relevant in cases like the McCabe case.
"Whilst today's revelations raise new concerns about the behaviour of its lawyers it was the company whose incriminating documents were destroyed, and the company that won a case that was tainted by giving of false evidence and the deliberate misleading of the court," said Mr Liberman.
"A recent court decision, in a massive case brought by the US Department of Justice, agreed with Justice Eames' decision about the purpose of the document destruction policy, namely to ensure that incriminating documents were kept out of court."
"Unlike in the US, neither the company nor its lawyers have been held to account in Australia for their behaviour."
"This is a serious administration of justice issue. It is for Government, not for individual members of the community like the McCabe family, to hold those responsible to account."
Executive Director of Quit, Mr Todd Harper, said according to today's report lawyers acting for BAT deliberately used tactics to exploit the fact Rolah McCabe only had a few months to live.
"For lawyers to deliberately misuse the litigation process to take advantage of a dying woman is beneath contempt."
"This corrupt behaviour prevented Rolah McCabe from receiving the justice she was entitled to."
"This is a stark reminder of the incredibly low depths the tobacco industry, and those it works with, will sink to in order to avoid taking responsibility for the devastation caused by the product it peddles."
"The tobacco industry acts as if is above the law. It does all it can to avoid taking responsibility for damage caused by cigarettes with utter disregard for the truth."
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