Can't find what your looking for? Visit our News Archive to view all of our previous stories.
A massive class action over a Black Saturday bushfire that killed 119 people may not go ahead if a big enough courtroom can't be found.
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Jack Forrest says urgent government assistance is needed to hire a Melbourne CBD office to hold the state's largest civil court case.
The government says it is working with the court to find a suitable venue, but several possibilities have already been ruled out.
Lawyers for the victims say justice will be delayed unless a courtroom is found.
The trial, against energy provider SPI Electricity, is expected to begin in January next year and run for six months.
There are several thousand people involved in the class action.
Maurice Blackburn senior associate Rory Walsh, who will appear for plaintiffs in the case, said the victims should not be forced to wait any longer for justice to be served.
"They've already waited a long time and they're still waiting for someone to be made accountable for that day's events and for justice to be served," he said in a statement.
Justice Forrest said Chief Justice Marilyn Warren had taken steps over the past two years to find a courtroom and had recently written to Deputy Premier Peter Ryan and Attorney-General Robert Clark.
"Absent a guarantee that a court will be available on 29 January, I will have to stay the proceeding indefinitely until suitable court facilities become available," he said during a filing hearing on Monday.
"This outcome would be incredibly unfortunate, given the detrimental effect that it will have on each of the parties and that includes also the thousands of group members."
A large courtroom is required to accommodate 20 barristers, dozens of expert witnesses and large numbers of people interested in attending the trial.
"It is vital, in my view, that the community have an appropriate opportunity to attend the trial, which involves one of the major civil calamities over the past 100 years in this state," Justice Forrest said.
Mr Clark said he was working with the courts to find a venue.
"And the government is confident that with continued work between the government and the court, a suitable venue for this litigation will be able to be found," he told reporters.
He said several venues including a court in the Federal Court building and the former bushfires royal commission hearing room were considered but were either unavailable or unsuitable.
Asked about the former Daimaru department store building on Latrobe Street as a potential venue, Mr Clark said the court and the Department of Justice were in discussions.
Justice Warren has spoken in the past about the need for a new Supreme Court building and the limitations faced by the court sitting in its current 19th century building.
Last year a directions hearing for another large class action was held in the Federal Court because of the lack of space in the Supreme Court.
Based on information provided by and with the permission of the Western Australian Land Information Authority (2013) trading as Landgate.