Australia’s Anti-ISDS Approach Again: AANZFTA Protocol Ratification Hearing in Parliament

On 21 August 2023 Australia signed, with New Zealand and the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Second Protocol to Amend the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), after announcing in November 2022 substantial conclusion of the free trade agreement (FTA) review that had commenced in September 2018. This amended treaty added new chapters and updated many others, whereas the first Protocol in 2015 focused on streamlining certification for cross-border movement of goods.

For example, as I noted in my written Submission in January 2024 to the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) inquiry into ratifying the Second Protocol, it added more provisions on consumer protection generally (in Article 7 of Chapter 17, but setting narrow minimum standards for national laws and not subject even to the inter-state dispute settlement Chapter that could help give those commitments more bite, compared to the Australia-UK FTA signed in 2021) and for e-commerce (Article 18 of Chapter 10, underpinned by inter-state dispute settlement – unlike the ASEAN+5 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP signed in 2020).

However, my Submission and others focused mainly on the Second Protocol’s update to Chapter 11 on Investment. The substantive commitments (in Section A, Arts 1-18) were adjusted largely in line with RCEP’s Investment Chapter, but the main controversy concerned Section B’s retention of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) option allowing arbitration as with the original AANZFTA (in forced from 2010). A week before the Second Protocol was substantially agreed, Australia’s Labor Government had declared on 14 November 2022 that it would not agree to ISDS protections for foreign investors in any future treaties, and would seek to review and remove them in past investment treaties. The New Zealand government had also announced in late 2017 that it would not agree to ISDS in future treaties, mimicking the stance of an earlier Labor (with Greens) Government when in power in Australia over 2011-2013.

Compromises were made when retaining ISDS in the Second Protocol’s Investment Chapter. The parties will first suspend application of the National Treatment commitment (not to discriminate against foreign investors compared to local investors, subject to scheduled country-specific exceptions) for breaches arising within 30 months of the upgrade. This is quite significant as the Second Protocol enlivens a previously inactive (Article 3) obligation for National Treatment. The second compromise is Article 17, providing for a work program to review Section B on ISDS no later than 18 months after the date of entry into force of the Second Protocol, to be concluded within 12 months unless extended by the states party – so probably by the end of 2027. (The program also requires discussion about adding two extra prohibitions of performance requirements in Article 6.1.) Given the Australian Labor Government’s opposition to ISDS, it can be expected to press for the removal or otherwise significant curtailing of Section B on ISDS. However, it faces a general election by May 2025, and if it loses to the Coalition the latter will reinstate a more flexible approach – agreeing to ISDS on a treaty-by-treaty assessment of Australia’s national interests. New Zealand’s Labor Government also lost the general election in October 2023, and its new Coalition Government is also likely to be quite sanguine about retaining ISDS.

In parallel, RCEP’s investment chapter had instead omitted ISDS but Article 10.18 established a work program to reconsider whether or not and how to add ISDS. This negotiation was to be started within two years of this ASEAN+5 treaty coming into force (January 2022 for ten states), to be concluded then within three years – so by the end of 2025. The largest non-ASEAN member states of RCEP with large outbound investments such as Japan, Korea and even China, may press for adding ISDS. However, their outbound investors mostly have anyway at least one other ISDS-backed treaty to invoke even without RCEP (eg Japan and Australia have the CPTPP, even though ISDS was omitted also from their 2014 bilateral FTA).

My Submission, and oral evidence given (with video-recording here) in favour of ratifying the Second Protocol (contrasting with the evidence and submissions opposing ratification from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and AFTINET), identified likely net benefits from ISDS-backed treaties including this one but also options for further drafting improvements, drawing partly on my submission to the 2020 DFAT review of Australia’s standalone bilateral investment treaties. I also urged ongoing transparency and stakeholder involvement in the envisaged work program.

We can expect most JSCOT members to recommend that Australia ratifies the Second Protocol. After all, JSCOT always has a majority of Government parliamentarians on the Committee, and its own minister has already signed the Protocol (after review by Cabinet colleagues). In addition, the Coalition parliamentarians in opposition have always maintained a flexible approach towards ISDS provisions. The solitary Australian Greens member, however, seems likely to recommend against ratification, as its parliamentarians have done on committees considering treaties that contain ISDS provisions. What will be more interesting is what the Labor members say about ISDS, including the evidence given, and what that might imply for Australia’s ongoing negotiations regarding investment agreements with India and the European Union.

“The Vis Moot in Japan: Tips and Tricks for Participants”

This hybrid-format 14 February 2024 seminar in Tokyo was planned primarily by the “Japan Arbitration Club” formed recently among younger arbitration experts and afficionados, led by Carlotta Bruessel (now with Nishimura & Asahi, Japan’s largest law firm, and previously working in Canberra and Sydney) who also moderated this seminar. My co-panellists included Eriko Kadota, now a managing associate in Tokyo with Linklaters (which co-sponsored the seminar and provided the venue) who competed successfully for ANJeL’s “Team Australia” in the intercollegiate negotiation and arbitration moot competition (INC) while a student at Sydney Law School. Other event supporters were the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), the International Chamber of Commerce’s Young Arbitration and ADR Forum (ICC-YAAF, as this year’s Vis Moot applies the ICC Arbitration Rules) and the Moot Alumni Association for the Vis moot. The latter’s Japan members and others have started coordinating a “pre-moot” competition for Japanese university teams before they go to the main Vis Moot held in Vienna or the spin-off Vis East Moot held in Hong Kong.

The main focus of this seminar was to share experiences and ideas especially for Japanese students and coaches about what to expect in the Vis Moots. However, to that end I added some contrasts with the INC, which has also greatly enhanced interest and skills in arbitration among Japanese and other law students over the last two decades.

My first encounters with the Vis Moot dated back to the late 1990s, when I was joined as associate professor at Kyushu University Law Faculty by Hiroo Sono, who had already attended the Vis Moot and eventually became Dean of the Law School at Hokkaido University. (We also ended up co-authoring in 2019 a Kluwer book on Contract Law in Japan.) I took his prescient advice to attend the Sixth Vis Moot in Vienna as a mock arbitrator around Easter in 1999, as he had done in 1997. Then we ran a small courses for the Japanese-language LLM program and then new English-language LLM/LLD program in Kyushu University to coach a team that competed in the Seventh Vis Moot in Vienna in early 2000. Already there had been one Japanese team, from Meiji Gakuin University (competing in the Fifth and Sixth Vis Moots), but there was very little awareness of the competition around that time – or indeed about arbitration – in Japan. Writing articles in Japanese (in 1186 Jurisuto and 67 Hosei Kenkyu / Journal of Law and Politics, in 2000) with Professor Sono and in English (66 Hosei Kenkyu Part I and Part II in 1999) to promote more interest in the Vis Moot, I speculated that its growth already over the 1990s was linked partly to states starting to accede to the UN Sales Convention (CISG, agreed in 1980 and in force from 1988). It was even clearer that the numbers of teams per country were rising, generating critical mass and even by then creating scope for “pre-moots” before the main competition in Vienna – as seen from this Figure 1 reproduced Part II of my 1999 article in Hosei Kenkyu:

Japan acceded in 2008 (as explained in his JJL article here), thanks significantly to the efforts of Professor Sono who was seconded around then to the Ministry of Justice from Hokkaido University to promote understanding and engagement with CISG. This has made the UN Sales Convention directly relevant for Japanese traders and their legal advisors, who also need to assist Japanese subsidiaries and affiliates especially in Asian states that are also increasingly member states of CISG. Another contemporaneous development has been the comparatively belated but (especially since 2017) significantly greater interest in international arbitration among stakeholders in Japan (including now some very large local law firms, as well as branches of Western firms that were allowed full profit-sharing partnerships with Japanese bengoshi lawyers from 2004). This evolving context helps explain why by the 30th Vis Moot in Vienna held in 2023, there were four teams from Japanese universities (out of by then 380 teams in total): Doshisha, Kwansei Gakuin, Waseda and Seinan Gakuin. And for the 20th Vis East Moot in 2023, for example, Nagoya University reached the final eight teams.

These are impressive achievements for teams coming from a country where the native language is not English (the language of the Vis Moots), which helps Australian and other university teams; and not even a Western language, which helps continental European and other teams that have also been frequent and often very successful competitors as well. A further challenge for Japanese teams has been that traditionally the law schools from common law jurisdictions put more emphasis on mooting generally, to build up the oral advocacy skills needed for the court cases that drove the development of the common law. (Already in 1999 I was impressed by the enthusiasm and skills of a team from an Indian law schools, which are also now often top performers in both Vienna and Hong Kong moots.) However, more opportunities for mooting and oral argumentation have grown also within the civil law tradition countries, including Japan – perhaps linked to its postgraduate Law School program inaugurated from 2004, which (with some difficulties) has expanded the numbers and skills of bengoshi lawyers. This gradual transformation in Japanese legal education more generally is arguably also reflected in the growing popularity and skill levels associated with the INC moot held in Tokyo towards the end of each year since 2002.

However, the INC moot differs in several ways from the Vis Moot, so the latter creates extra challenges for Japanese university teams – most of which compete now in both competitions. First, INC has a division or track where (sub)teams compete in Japanese, not just in English, and indeed the aggregate score for each university is reduced if competing only in one of the two languages. More preparations – in research, writing memorandums and the crucial practice moots – can therefore be done in Japanese as a native language. Japanese university teams competing only in English in the Vis Moots therefore need to factor in extra time and confidence-building exercises, perhaps involving more English-speakers as team members and coaches.

Secondly, the INC applies the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Coontracts (first issued in 2004). Although their provisions overlap with CISG considerably, as later and opt-in rules of law (that parties must actively adopt), the UNIDROIT Principles can be more ambitious in their scope. They include provisions, say on regulating contractual unfairness, or allowing for adjustment of contracts in the event of supervening hardship, that are mostly left out of CISG for the applicable national law. The UNIDROIT Principles additionally apply to more complex (services and other) contracts than the international sale of goods, allowing for more arguments emphasising good faith and cooperation among the contracting parties than under CISG. In addition, the UNIDROIT as a restatement of the lex mercatoria are still not accepted by courts in many jurisdictions as governing law even if agreed upon by the parties for their cross-border contracts, unless combined with an international arbitration clause. And because arbitration is mostly confidential, whereas court litigation is mostly public, this means there is now much more publically-available case law on CISG from national courts around the world (and therefore related commentary) than on the UNIDROIT Principles as applied by arbitral tribunals.

The result of these differences is that arguments on contract law applying CISG in the Vis Moot tend to be more neo-classical and based on formal reasoning centred on the parties’ agreement and language used. By contrast, the arguments applying the UNIDROIT Principles in the INC moot can be more open-textured, appealing to wider contextual (moral, economic and other) considerations, although over the last decade or so these arguments have also become more formalised.

Thirdly, the INC is a one-shot competition. Each university only argues once in the arbitration round (and indeed only for one side, as assigned randomly by the organisers), even if the university fields multiple sub-teams competing in parallel. By contrast, the Vis Moot envisages that the higher-scoring teams can progress through to Finals, over many days of mock arbitration hearings. This also makes that competition more amenable to detailed and therefore more formal-reasoning arguments by the teams.

Fourthly, the INC traditionally did not address arbitration law problems, whereas those are often at least as important in the Vis Moot as the contract law problems. Recently, the INC incorporate some arbitration law questions in that round, but a key difference remains that the second day of the INC competition is a mock commercial negotiation seeking to reach agreement on a complex international joint venture. The skills required for successful negotiation, such as asking open-ended questions to try to understand the other side’s underlying interests, are often quite different that the more adversarial advocacy skills expected in international arbitration. Developing the latter is another challenge for Japanese university teams, even if students or coaches have become familiar with the INC moot.

Overall, the Vis Moot is designed to run as a quite formalised procedure, and has become more so as the numbers of teams competing in that competition has continued to grow. (This is true even of the Vis Moot East event, which I attended also in its earlier years when it was still smaller and therefore more like the Vienna moot over the 1990s.) This reflects the fact that the Vis Moots (in Vienna and to a growing extent also in Hong Kong) are also now a premier competition for students, coaches and mock arbitrators to network in order to enhance opportunities to actually practice international arbitration. There has also been resurgent formalisation of international arbitration over the last 10-15 years, including burgeoning costs and delays. Accordingly, Japanese participants in the Vis Moots should not be surprised to find that competition to be more rule-bound and intense even compared to moots like the INC.

Lastly, I share with you some excellent practical tips especially on oral advocacy for the Vis Moot (but also useful for the INC moot), from my colleague Prof Chester Brown. He has been lead coach for the University of Sydney Law School team that has competed very successfully in Vienna for around the last 15 years:

  1. Present clear and simplified arguments
  2. Signpost them (eg “We have three points …[but due to time the main focus will be on … unless the tribunal has particular interest in …]”)
  3. If “respondent” on issues, respond to points made by claimants rather than reverting to written submissions
  4. identify for the tribunal where parties agree or disagree (eg on the legal test)
  5. use evidentiary record and precisely
  6. remember points given for teamwork (eg for keeping to time)
  7. remember one’s own timekeeping (eg if arbitrator questions a lot on an early issue, be ready to present on the second issue in say 1-2 not 6-7 minutes (& then ask for extra minute for both sides).

ANJeL “Team Australia” 2nd again in INC Negotiation & Arbitration Moot!

Congratulations to University of Sydney Law School LLB and JD students Michelle Chen Daniel Hu, Kim Nguyen and Sean Yalcinkaya. They combined with other students mostly from ANU to form “Team Australia”, which again came second in the INC negotiation  and arbitration competition held over 9-10 December 2023 in Japan (this time pipped by UTokyo, with KyotoU coming third).

Importantly and deservedly, Team Australia won the ANJeL-sponsored prize for best (marks in) Teamwork. That was particularly impressive as the students have to cooperate cross-institutionally, and focus on moot preparations over the tense exam period. The students were also able to have a special tour of the apex Supreme Court, helped by ANJeL’s longstanding support for judicial visitors from Japan.

Special thanks to the lead coach and ANU law lecturer, James C. Fisher (and in past years Profs Kent Anderson and Veronica L. Taylor, ANJeL Advisors) as well as CAPLUS affiliate Nobumichi Teramura and Inma Conde for practice arbitrations. We are also grateful for support from DFAT (New Colombo Plan scholarships), Dean Simon Bronitt, Mitsui Matsushima and many past Moot alumni – including Ben Hines  and Irene Ma (both in the 2022 Team that also came second) and Eriko Kadota (now with Linklaters in Tokyo). For more details about this and past Teams see here.

Arbitration and Sports Law (Baseball) Dispute Resolution in Australia and Japan

As part of the Japanaroo suite of events, ANJeL is delighted to coordinate at Sydney Law School the two free public seminars below, both including a strong comparative focus on Japan and Australia, and involving a former Chief Justice of Victoria. One on Thursday 21 September compares arbitration’s historical trajectory (hybrid-format seminar, including two ANJeL program convenors based abroad – register via https://law-events.sydney.edu.au/events/intarbitrationaujp). The second on Friday 22 September compares sports law and dispute resolution (generally and with baseball as a major case study; in-person only, chaired by another ANJeL convenor Micah Burch – register via https://law-events.sydney.edu.au/events/globalsports-767).

1. Comparative History of International Arbitration: Australia, Japan and Beyond

This hybrid-format webinar compares the historical trajectory of international arbitration law and practice in Australia and Japan in regional and global contexts. An aim is to explore the evolving images and contours of arbitration and scope for cross-border collaboration in promoting this popular but sometimes contested form of dispute resolution.

Speakers

Commentator: Prof Luke Nottage (University of Sydney)(Drawing on the concluding chapter in his 2021 book: https://japaneselaw.sydney.edu.au/2020/08/book-in-press-with-elgar/ and his Encyclopedia entry on ACICA (with Prof Richard Garnett) at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4431276 )

Thursday 21 September

Time: 4-5.30pm

Location: The University of Sydney, Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown

Cost: Free, but registration is essential. Please select your attendance type during registration.

CPD points: 1.5 points

This event is being held an online and in-person at Sydney Law School. Please indicate your viewing preference when registering.

This event is proudly co-presented by the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law, the Resolution Institute and the Australian Network for Japanese Law at the University of Sydney Law School.

2. 2nd Annual Global Sports Law Symposium: Dispute Resolution

In-person event

This symposium brings together luminary experts and practitioners in sports law to discuss dispute resolution in the world of sports (it follows on from ANJeL’s seminar on international arbitration). The symposium’s first panel will feature two giants of the Australian sports law world reflecting on their careers in jurisprudence and sports administration resolving disputes in the sports area. The second panel will be a case study focusing on dispute resolution in baseball with two experts on both Japanese and Australian baseball.

About the Speakers

A. Dispute Resolution in Sports: Expert Reflections

Professor Deborah Healey (University of New South Wales)

Deborah Healey is the Director of the Herbert Smith Freehills China International Business and Economic Law (CIBEL) Centre and the Editor of the Sports Law Journal. She has more than 30 years of experience serving on the boards of major sports governance organizations and serves on the National Sports Tribunal.

Professor the Hon Marilyn Warren AC KC (Monash University)

Marilyn Warren is a Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Fellow of Monash University and is the former Chief Justice of Victoria. She practices as a commercial arbitrator and teaches law as a Professor at Monash’s Law Faculty.

B. Dispute Resolution in Sports: Baseball Case Study

Mr. Mark Marino (CEO, Baseball NSW)

Mark Marino has been the CEO of Baseball NSW since 2014 and is an Executive Committee Member of the Australian Baseball Players Alumni Association. Mark played collegiate and professional baseball in the United States and was the CEO of the Sydney Blue Sox 2014-2018.

Dr. Matt Nichol (Lecturer, Central Queensland University, (Melbourne))

Matt Nichol is a lecturer and sports law academic at the School of Business and Law at Central Queensland University and a board member of Baseball Victoria. His research uses approaches to labour law and regulatory theory to understand the regulation of labour in professional team sports.

Moderator: Mr. Micah Burch, Senior Lecturer, Sydney Law School.

Hosts: Sydney Law School, Australian Network for Japanese Law, Australia New Zealand Sports Law Association

Date: Friday, 22 September 2023

Time: 4.00-5.30pm

Location: Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), The University of Sydney

Please follow directional signage on arrival.

CPD Points: 1.5

This event is proudly co-presented by The University of Sydney Law School, the Australian Network for Japanese Law and the Australia New Zealand Sports Law Association.

Vote of thanks for Chief Justice Bell’s launch of “Comparing Online Legal Education” (& Foreword by James Douglas KC)

[From book launch on 3 August 2023]

I am very grateful for NSW Chief Justice Andrew Bell [pictured, above on left] for taking time from his busy schedule to launch this book [video-recording here or via the Sydney Law School podcasts on Youtube]. Perhaps I should have asked instead for such a favour for my next volume just into press, on Corruption and Asian Investment Arbitration, given His Honour’s longstanding shared interest in cross-border dispute resolution. But the Chief Justice also was a valued lecturer for Sydney Law School over many years, and I was struck by the remarks made about online legal education in another book launch following the annual Winterton lecture in the Banco Court a few months ago. Thank you very much for sharing some further ideas and kind words, reminding us of the history of technological developments in the research and teaching of law over our lifetimes, in the context of this volume.

I also acknowledge the Foreword [reproduced below] kindly contributed by former Queensland Supreme Court Justice James Douglas, here today [pictured, 2nd from right] and a longstanding elected member of the International Academy of Comparative Law. I also appreciate that Academy and then Secretary-General Prof Diego Fernández Arroyo for inviting me in early 2020 to become the General Reporter comparing developments world-wide related to online legal education. That became of course a very hot topic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which unfortunately meant not all nominated national reporters ended up producing chapters for this book. But I think it nonetheless achieved a fairly representative mix of jurisdictions to draw wider comparative conclusions – jurisdictions from common law, civil law and mixed traditions, more or less democratic states, large and small states, developed and developing economies.

I thank all the contributors to this book, especially my co-editor Seijo University Prof Makoto Ibusuki, ANJeL-in-Japan program convenor and frequent visitor to Australia (and many parts of the world). I particularly valued some early zoom discussions over 2020, comparing different challenges and reactions in Australia and Japan. We and this book also benefited from an excellent chapter co-authored by ANJeL Advisor and Newcastle DVC, Prof Kent Anderson here tonight, comparing different “gatekeepers” across jurisdictions that regulate entry to the legal profession: lawyers, governments, universities and the market. The book’s summary general report plus the jurisdictional reports consider how each model, along with other factors such as ICT infrastructure and funding for universities as well as the extent of COVID-19 impact, can influence the trajectories of in-person and then online legal education.

I thank also Rebecca Moffat and the very professional team at Intersentia, which has become the publisher for the book series from the Academy’s four-yearly major comparative law congresses. (I only hope they bring down the price for the e-book version.) I am especially grateful to Intersentia and the Academy for adapting for the book cover an abstract artwork provided by my daughter Erica Kobayashi Nottage of Enso Circulation, finishing off at the National Art School this year, and for the rest of my immediate family for joining us for the book launch.

For hosting tonight, I thank Dean Simon Bronitt [pictured in photo above, right] and Sydney Law School (including its Centre for Asian and Pacific Law, the cross-institutional Australian Network for Japanese Law, and Carla and Ashleigh from our terrific Events Team). Further editorial and research assistance for the book was kindly provided through the University of Wollongong’s Transnational Law and Policy Centre, where I enjoy an honorary affiliation. I am also glad for the support of Assoc Prof Markus Wagner, leading that Centre, and his Dean Trish Mundy kindly co-authored an insightful chapter on online legal education in Australia.

Thank you again for the insightful remarks on launching this book, Chief Justice, and for all my colleagues, family, friends and others who attended to support this event.

***

Book’s Foreword, by the Hon James Douglas KC:

A long time ago I experienced the mixed joys of both undergraduate and postgraduate law lectures and tutorials delivered directly in the classroom among fellow students. In my final undergraduate year in 1973, however, I studied part-time entirely remotely by reading lecture notes with references to the relevant texts and cases. Luckily, I had access to an excellent law library and was the associate of a judge in a final appellate court where there were other such judges with associates who were recent graduates. I could bounce ideas off them and learn from the cases argued before the court. I hate to think what that experience of remote learning would have been like had I not had that environment around me. I admire greatly those lawyers who have successfully educated themselves solely through distance or online education. 

I recognise the advantages that modern technology can provide to remote learning not only through video-conferencing of lectures and tutorials but by direct access to relevant primary materials online. That early experience, however, has biased me in favour of live teaching in a class full of students actually present. As the authors recognise in their introduction, even interactive video-conferencing makes it more difficult for remote students ‘to engage in classroom discussions … where picking up on nuances can be harder than in physical interactions, even for native speakers’. Common experience of video-conferencing outside the academic environment backs up those conclusions. 

There is so much to be learned also in informal discussion with lecturers and other students and from an environment where the social interaction and physical facilities are focused on what you are studying. As the authors say about the experience of online education in Macao, ‘law is rooted in human interactions, benefiting not only from direct student–teacher contact but also from student learning among peers, through classroom teaching but also other personal contacts on campus’. This personal contact is recognised as a continuing advantage particularly in aspects of courses where students need to learn practical or ‘soft’ skills.

The period leading up to the International Academy of Comparative Law’s 2022 Congress in Paraguay coincided with the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the curtailment of normal legal education in very many jurisdictions. So the decision to examine the topic of online legal education at the Congress proved to be very ‘timely’, as Professors Nottage and Ibusuki say in their General Report. Suddenly online legal education had become frighteningly necessary and common. It can also provide access to courses otherwise practically too expensive or unavailable to less privileged students. What, therefore, may be the consequences of greater use of online legal education for the future of the profession and the teaching of law around the world?

This useful volume examines those issues relevant to online legal education in 13 jurisdictions representative of the major common law and civilian traditions as well as some hybrid jurisdictions. It makes some tentative predictions for the future of such education. The examples also carry the advantage of having been drawn from countries with widely varying economies, unequal access to technology for online teaching and differing traditions in the teaching of law. 

The authors link legal education to the legal profession and main legal traditions of each jurisdiction covered, and include pre- and post-admission education for law graduates. The focus is mostly on university-level legal education but practical professional training in some jurisdictions is also addressed. Online education for such practical training can be more effective than may be the case for young undergraduates. It is also notable that the topic shows the typical tensions between continuity and change often found in comparative studies. 

Some of the main general conclusions reached are that developments in online legal education in the 13 jurisdictions examined should be influenced by the nature of the jurisdiction’s legal tradition and legal profession, its level of public funding for universities, its level of economic development, including its infrastructure for information and communications technology, and the particular impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work as a whole will be especially useful for those considering how to deploy online legal education in a particular jurisdiction, using that analysis, with a view to setting up a properly nuanced regime for that style of education for that jurisdiction. 

Those charged with these significant responsibilities in jurisdictions and universities around the world will derive great benefit from studying the insights contained in this volume. 

Japanese Imperial Decoration for former NSW Chief Justice Bathurst

ANJeL is delighted to join in congratulating its member and longstanding supporter the Hon Tom Bathurst AC KC, former Chief Justice of New South Wales and now King’s Counsel with 6 Selbourne Wentworth Chambers, for being awarded recently this year a very high Honour from the Emperor on the advice of the Japanese Government. Very few jurists have been accorded this Honour, but among them are French law reform advisor and professor Gustave Emile Boissonade (1825–1910) and former High Court of Australia justice the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG (awarded in 2017).

Photos from the conferment ceremony, attended also by the immediate past President (now NSW governor) and current President of the NSW Court of Appeal as well as ANJeL visiting Judge Kohei Sasaki and others, can be found here along with the Consulate-General’s further explanation:

“On 29 April, Mr Tom Bathurst was announced as a recipient of The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, in the 2023 Spring Imperial Decorations, in recognition of his contribution to strengthening ties between Japan and Australia and the promotion of mutual understanding in the judicial field.

On 6 July, at his official residence, Consul-General Tokuda presented the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star to Mr Bathurst, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and former Chair of the Judicial Section of the Law Association for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA). During the ceremony, a video message from Japan’s Chief Justice TOKURA Saburo was played to Mr Bathurst and assembled guests.”

ANJeL is also very grateful for support over the last two decades from the current NSW Chief Justice, the Hon Andrew Bell (launching on 3 August Luke Nottage’s book co-edited with Prof Makoto Ibusuki, comparing online legal education) and Mr Bathurst’s predecessor, the Hon J J Spigelman who first collaborated with ANJeL in its formal judicial exchange program with the Supreme Court of Japan. ANJeL also thanks Mr Shuichi Tokuda and his predecessors as Consul-General of Japan in Sydney, who have assisted with this program and other ANJeL activities while serving on its Advisory Board.

Collective Reflections from Team Australia: Second Again in INC Moot!

Guest blog by: Ben Hines, Irene Ma, Damian Young (USyd), Isabella Keith (ANU) and Orian Ibraheim (Monash), with James Fisher (coach, ANU)

Competing in the INC Negotiation and Arbitration Competition in Tokyo was a fantastic experience for us all, substantially developing a variety of our skills in alternative dispute resolution and opening our eyes to the possibilities that exist in Japan.

From the outset, the intense preparation began even before the problem question was released. As members of Team Australia supported by the cross-institutional Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), we came together from a number of the country’s leading law schools to meet like-minded students and our fantastic coach, James. The intensity of our preparation was never a burden, and the fascinating subject matter and intellectually stimulating training developed our skillsets and collective ability to work effectively as a team unit. In addition to the competition itself, this process was invaluable to us all.

Interestingly, we discovered that INC is more than just a mooting competition: it is unique and a fantastic experience in so many ways. First, unlike other mooting competitions where you sign up for either arbitration or negotiation, INC is a competition that really tests all of your skills. Across the two rounds, both arbitration and negotiation, we were required to train for these two very different skillsets, gaining knowledge and insights that will undoubtedly benefit us all in the future. It is also not a one-off competition, and throughout our experiences with INC alumni we learned that by competing for Team Australia you really do join an extensive and amazing network comprised of teams from years past. Every alum we met was incredibly friendly and happy to give back. The team was lucky enough to visit the offices of several leading international law firms, where Team Australia alums offered their insight and experiences working in Japan and provided their office space for our preparation efforts.

In Japan, we were lucky enough to gain the unique cultural exposure that only venturing to the country itself could bring. James, a verified local after his decade in Tokyo, showed us the sides of Tokyo that might be missed by tourists alone. But our experience didn’t finish there.  Of course, the INC trip to Tokyo is very different from the usual trip of a tourist. Instead of going to Disneyland (despite our year’s question centring around a theme park) or Mount Fuji, we visited different law firm offices, including Herbert Smith Freehills and Linklaters, and the classrooms at Sophia University where we spent our time in intense preparation for the competition.

The competition itself lasted across two days and was conducted in an order that was carefully considered by the competition organisers – arbitration on the first day, and negotiation on the second day. According to the steering committee, this is because they wished to encourage a collaborative and intercollegiate approach to future disputes, and by practicing both forms of resolution the legal minds of the future will be well-equipped. Both rounds ran for approximately 4 hours, though the arbitration round ran even longer given that the process was entirely controlled by the Tribunal. This was a huge test of physical and mental endurance, and if you decide to compete in the future, we will strongly suggest you bring some food so you can recharge during the break!

We were lucky enough to compete against Chuo University and Sophia University across our two hard-fought yet collegial rounds. The quality of the competition was exceptionally high, which put our skills to the test in order to achieve the best results we could. Thankfully, given our extensive preparation efforts, we were able to face any challenge thrown at us. After our round, both opposing teams were incredibly kind, and we made new friends that we are excited to stay in contact with!

Sitting in the final closing ceremony, we were happy to learn our hard work had paid off, and not only had we won the Best English Negotiation and second in English Arbitration by a mere one point but had come second overall in the competition (by a similarly minor margin)!

We will never forget the experience, and we encourage anybody interested to apply – you certainly won’t regret it.

Postscript by James Fisher (Lecturer @ ANU, ANJeL co-convenor for teaching and learning):

As the team’s coach, it was a pleasure and privilege to witness their skills develop and watch their stunning performances at the competition in Tokyo. They definitely demonstrated the high quality of the emerging jurists at Australia’s top law schools. Their personal success, the growing and supportive alumni community they have joined, and the lessons they will apply to their future studies and careers prove the enduring value of the collaborative inter-varsity project that is INC Team Australia, supported by the Australian Network for Japanese Law. I hope Ben, Irene, Damian (USyd), Isabella (ANU) and Orian (Monash) are as proud of themselves as we are of them!

Japan’s Influence in Comparative Law: An Australian Perspective

The Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg is hosting a Festschrift conference for longstanding ANJeL advisor and personal friend, Prof Harald Baum, over 1-2 September 2022 on the theme of “Comparing and Transferring Law and Legal Expertise: The Role of Japan”. My presentation and essay honouring Prof Harald Baum begins by locating Australia’s burgeoning Japanese law engagement since the 1980s amidst multiple “worlds” or genres of Japanese legal studies worldwide, and the ambivalence of hitching Japanese legal studies to the wider rising star of “Asian law” engagement (Part I [reproduced below]). It focuses on the unique cross-institutional Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) that has promoted comparisons with, and understanding of, Japanese law since its establishment in 2002, including sustained support from Harald Baum (Part II). The essay surveys achievements and challenges in research, funded projects and publications in Japanese law (Part III), teaching and learning initiatives about Japanese law (Part IV) and wider community engagement (especially between the legal professions in Japan and Australia) also facilitated by ANJeL (Part V). It concludes that Japanese law engagement has remained surprisingly strong, despite the attraction of diversifying into Asian law more widely, although both fields are facing challenges nurturing the “next generation” of experts in Australia. 

I. Introduction: Consolidating Japanese Law in Australia

Japan has long been an attractive subject for comparative law. It first provided a rich case study of successfully “importing” law – first on Chinese, then Western models – interacting with indigenous norms and institutions. Japan then attracted interest for “exporting” law – in parts of Asia in the colonial era, to the West since its economic heyday in the 1980s, and to Asia and elsewhere over the last few decades as part of Japan’s overseas development aid programs. Japan has also been central to developing, and often empirically testing, theories as to how law interacts with society.[1] As is now well known, the main contenders are that “the Japanese don’t like law” (the culturalist theory), “they can’t like law” (the institutional barriers theory), “they are made not to like law” (the elite management theory), “they like predictable law” (the economic rationalist theory, implying instead that the legal system works well), or some hybrid approach.[2]

The world of Japanese law scholarship, however, has divided into several sub-worlds.[3] First, “Japanese law” comprises studies published in English, mainly by those versed in the Anglo-American legal tradition. The US sub-tradition – led by its elite law schools – favours analyses that engage big theoretical issues, often influenced by disciplines other than law (such as cultural studies, politics or economics), and related empirical work. Topics for analysis also tend to be quite wide-ranging. The English sub-tradition favours more black-letter analyses, with more focus on practical issues particularly in business law. Secondly, the German-language scholarship comparing Japanese law, “Japanisches Recht”, is likewise often quite black-letter in its approach but also covers quite a wide range of topics, thanks to a shared legal history. Thirdly, we have studies of “nihon-ho” written in Japanese, mostly by Japanese scholars for a Japanese audience, which of course cover all topics in Japanese law. The analyses tend to be mostly black-letter law but alongside a rich tradition of legal theory and sociology, sometimes impacting on legal analysis directly, and sometimes impacting indirectly as some Japanese scholars spend time in or with US law schools.

Australia generally follows the English sub-tradition, and its related variant of the common law based on more formal reasoning patterns and supporting legal institutions.[4] Yet by the 1980s, when Japanese law scholarship started to take off in Australia, it had already come under more influence generally from US approaches to legal analysis. (Scholarship in England itself was also developing more emphasis on “law in context” and substantive reasoning.) From the outset, therefore, Japanese law studies in Australia tended to combine both black-letter and contextualist analyses – albeit arguably with more theoretical ecumenicalism than say than in the US.[5] For practical reasons, namely burgeoning trade and investment relations, the focus did tend to be on business law topics. However, as bilateral relations broadened (including more geopolitical links and shared involvement in international treaty regimes), and as the numbers of Japanese law scholars and publications gradually grew, a wider array of Japanese law topics were researched and taught. This broadening and accretion arguably generated more influence from Japanese law for students, legal professionals, and makers of law and policy in Australia.

However, Australia engaged in, and was more impacted by, Japanese law scholarship from the 1980s, during the same period as Australia also ramped up its studies of Asian legal systems more generally. This was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allowed scholars to get university appointments and research grants by invoking the broader, and therefore more appealing, category of “Asian law”. Sometimes there were good methodological reasons for emphasising the wider category, given the historical or structural links between Japanese and other Asian legal systems, but there were also practical advantages for securing resources to pursue the study of Japan “within Asia”. As can happen with new fields of law, history or other fields of scholarship,[6] some commentary emphasised how “Asian law” was distinct from the field of comparative law. However, other work argued that the latter had become more interdisciplinary in approach as well, certainly by the turn of the 20th century.[7]

On the other hand, hitching Japanese law scholarship to the rising star of “Asian law” also had potential downsides. Research and publications could end up being directed at Asian legal systems, “hollowing out” Japanese law scholarship and teaching. Coupling Japanese with Asian law also risked undermining a Japan focus and commitment by Australian law schools if and when they reduced their enthusiasm for Asian law. Indeed, a recent short survey of Asian law scholarship for the Asian Studies Association of Australia suggests that that day is already nigh, arguably reflecting a reduction in government and other support across universities for Asia-focused initiatives more generally. Nonetheless, that analysis acknowledges that Asian law expertise remains underpinned by university centres or other institutional arrangements, which are difficult to unwind, thus making its impact more sustainable even if individual scholars find fewer appointments, research grants or teaching opportunities.[8] Even if the focus on Asian law does diminish in Australia, therefore, the institutional entrenchment of Japanese law may shield it from diminishing relevance and influence.

This essay therefore concentrates on a key organisation that has promoted comparisons with, and understanding of, Japanese law over the last two decades, catching the Asian law wave and hopefully riding it out reasonably well if and when that wave fades away. Supported from the outset by Harald Baum, the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) has hopefully created sufficient critical mass to ensure that Japanese law continues to have widespread impact not just across academic research in Australia, but also to a significant extent within the legal profession and even some aspects of the wider community. Maintaining a solid base for the “export” of Japanese law into these sectors in Australia, in turn, should allow Japanese counterparts to productively “re-import” elements of Australian law and practice.


[1] L. Nottage, The Development of Comparative Law in Japan, in: M. Reimann and R. Zimmerman (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (2019) 201, with a manuscript version at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3276469.

[2] M. Abe and L. Nottage, Japanese Law, in: J. Smits (ed.) Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (2020) (forthcoming), with a manuscript version of this contribution for a third edition at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3672112.

[3] L. Nottage, Japanisches Recht, Japanese Law and Nihon-ho: Towards New Transnational Collaboration in Research and Teaching, Journal of Japanese Law 2001, 12, 17; T. Ginsburg, L. Nottage and H. Sono (eds.), The Multiple Worlds of Japanese Law: Disjunctions and Conjunctions (Victoria, Canada 2001). Compare also H. Baum, Teaching and Researching Japanese Law: A German Perspective, in: S. Steele and K. Taylor (eds.) Legal Education in Asia: Globalization, Change and Contexts (2011) 89

[4] See generally L. Nottage, Form, Substance and Neo-Proceduralism in Comparative Contract Law: The Law in Books and the Law in Action in England, New Zealand, Japan and the U.S. (Ph.D in Law thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2002), available via http://hdl.handle.net/10063/778.

[5] M. Smith, Australian Perspectives on Asian Law: Directions for the Next Decade, in: V. Taylor (ed.) Asian Laws Through Australian Eyes (2007) 3. As an example of more black-letter Japanese law works led by Australia-based scholars, Veronica Taylor took over editing and writing for the CCH Japan Business Law Guide loose-leaf series from 2000-2006, followed by Luke Nottage until 2009. A volume comprising four of its chapters was also spun off as CCH Business Law in Japan, Volume 1 (2008, Singapore/Tokyo: CCH, ISBN 978-4-915845-08-6).

[6] Examples include how the leaders of the Enlightenment distinguished the preceding supposed “Dark Ages”, or how promoters of mediation differentiated that process as more purely consensual and hence more genuine “alternative dispute resolution” compared to arbitration: L. Nottage, Is (International) Commercial Arbitration ADR?, The Arbitrator and Mediator 2002, 20, 83, also at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=838044.

[7] Compare V. Taylor, Beyond Legal Orientalism, in: V. Taylor (ed.) Asian Laws Through Australian Eyes (2007) 47 with L. Nottage, Comparative Law, Asian Law, and Japanese Law, Journal of Japanese Law 2003, 8, 41 also at https://ssrn.com/abstract=837964.

[8]  M. Crouch, ‘Asian Law in Australian Universities: Research centres as critical institutional commitments’, Asian Studies (Blog Post, 21 April 2020) https://asaa.asn.au/asian-law-in-australian-universities-research-centres-as-critical-institutional-commitments/.

“The Interface of Inquests and Consumer Law and Policy: 2021 NSW Coronial Inquest Findings into the 2017 Death of a Honda Driver from a Takata Airbag”

Abstract: A coronial inquest is an inquisitorial fact-finding investigation into causes and manner of deaths that are eg violent, unusual, or from unknown causes. The coroner may also make recommendations to improve health and safety related to the death investigated.[1] Sometimes such inquests attract considerable media and public attention, although usually not as much as say a royal or other commission of inquiry. As such, inquests could influence the implementation or enactment of consumer product safety law. Yet there is very little research into this interface. An interesting recent case study comes from a New South Wales coronial inquest over 2019-2021 into a tragic death in July 2017 associated with Australia’s largest-ever vehicle recall, which uncovered poor practices by the manufacturer (Honda Australia) as well as the regulators.

The recall ultimately involved 3 million vehicles in Australia originally affected due to defective airbags manufactured by Japanese firm Takata, which started to explode and kill or injure drivers abroad from 2015 and ended up being subjected to a mandatory recall order issued in February 2018 by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). By March 2021 the ACCC reported that these 3 million vehicles had been successfully recalled by manufacturers, although: “around 312,000 vehicles have been deemed to be compliant with the recall although they have not had their airbags replaced … vehicles which have been scrapped, stolen or unregistered for more than two years, or where consumers did not respond or were not contactable after repeated contacts through different channels. Globally, these Takata airbags have been associated with over 350 serious injuries and 33 deaths. This includes one death in Sydney in July 2017 and one serious injury in Darwin in April 2017. Two injuries were also reported following an accident in Sydney in August 2020.”[2]

Many problems had been increasingly highlighted by local media and consumer experts or groups[3] concerning the Takata airbag recalls process in Australia. There were also some media reports towards the start[4] and during some hearings[5] of the NSW coronial inquest into the death of Mr Huy Neng Ngo in July 2017, killed by a Takata airbag that had still not been replaced by Honda Australia.[6] Curiously, however, there has been almost no media reporting of the findings and recommendations for avoiding further deaths, released on 19 November 2021 by NSW Deputy Coroner, Magistrate E. Truscott.[7] I became aware of the extensive report recently as I had been asked by the NSW Crown Solicitors’ Office in mid-2019 to provide a witness statement to the inquest. Essentially, the report finds that the specialist regulator (DIRD transport ministry) but also the ACCC were rather asleep at the wheel in scrutinising Honda Australia’s inadequate recall notices sent out from 2015 until his death. Regulators should have done more and earlier, partly due to failures in inter-agency coordination. They and Honda Australia only seem to have started lifting their game after Mr Ngo’s death, the first in Australia.

* * *

After submitting my written statement, I was not called for oral examination at the inquest. However, the inquest findings (at pp149-53) show how I had alerted senior ACCC officials back in late 2015 that Honda Australia was sending out recall notices that I considered misleading by only referring vaguely to a “precautionary” recall and without highlighting the serious risks, even though by that stage some like myself knew that Takata airbags had caused multiple injuries and deaths abroad. (By chance, I had been following the Takata recall saga abroad as part of my longstanding research in comparative consumer product safety law and practice, and had purchased a second-hand Honda so when I got these recall letters from Honda Australia I realised they were problematic.) The deputy coroner noted eg (at p188-9):

“… The content of the consumer recall letters at least until March 2017 effectively failed to convey to the consumer the importance of the need to replace the airbag. The recall strategy failed to bring to the attention of the consumer the risk or danger that the airbag posed. That this approach continued well past the publication of the Blomquist report and that none of Honda Australia, DIRD or the ACCC sought to widen the recall strategy at this time is regrettable. Moreover, as already discussed at paragraphs [256]-[286], it is regrettable that Honda Australia, which had the primary responsibility for its voluntary campaign, did not identify that it should change its consumer recall letter and strategy well before March 2017.

645. It was a failure that the ACCC did not itself or seek DIRD to intervene in Honda Australia’s campaign approach when the opportunity arose, such as in 2015 with the NRMA and Professor Nottage communications or indeed [from 2016] in the Takata Airbag Working Group meetings.”

It was only a month after Mr Ngo’s death from the exploding Honda airbag that (pp 202-203):

“… in August 2017 the ACCC reviewed manufacturers’ language in recall notices on the PSA website, as well as more broadly in consumer communications, and took steps to develop model language to be used in connection with voluntary recall measures for Takata airbags. Although, at this point, there was not yet any compulsory recall on foot, Mr Grimwade [from the ACCC] said that “we took it upon ourselves to ensure that the language on our website was reflecting the risks as we understood them, and as they were emerging in the investigation”. Mr Grimwade accepted that ACCC officers could have, prior to 13 July 2017, usefully exchanged views in relation to the text to be used in Takata recall notices, in the manner in which they did in August 2017. He agreed that this “should have been done”.

688. Mr Grimwade’s expression that the ACCC took it upon themselves to conduct this review is somewhat odd given that he said there was no lack of clarity by the ACCC as to whose responsibility the PSA [Product Safety Australia] website was – the ACCC had sole responsibility for it at all times.

689. That the 5ZV recall used the term “precautionary” in its language on the website in the first place but continued to do up until this review is concerning as there were numerous occasions which should have or at least could have given the ACCC cause to conduct such a review, namely: (i) the 2015 NRMA letter; (ii) the late 2015 Professor Nottage correspondence; (iii) the Blomquist report [for US regulators] and NHTS orders in May 2016; (iv) the April 2017 injury causing the Toyota misdeployment in the Northern Territory together with (v) the ACCC participation in the Takata Airbags Working Group meetings from June 2016 and (vi) its close working relationship with DIRD.

690. On 5 August 2017, following receipt of responses from affected vehicle suppliers, the Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, issued a “Safety Warning Notice to the Public” under s 129(1) of the ACL, regarding possible risks of using motor vehicles containing Takata airbags.1037 The Safety Warning Notice warned of possible risks involved in the use of motor vehicles containing Takata airbags supplied in Australia, urged consumers to check whether their vehicle had been included in a product safety recall and advised that the ACCC was investigating whether vehicles with Takata airbags will or may cause injury.1038 Mr Grimwade advised that the purpose of a safety warning notice such as this is to “bring attention to a particular hazard through the [M]inister” and that “used sparingly… they can get quite a lot of publicity and indicate the views of government in relation to a particular hazard”.1039

691. Mr Grimwade accepted that there was an opportunity, prior to 13 July 2017, for the Minister to issue a Safety Warning Notice – such as that ultimately issued on 5 August 2017 – in respect of the risks posed in relation to the voluntary recalls of Takata airbags.1040 He accepted that there was a missed opportunity on the part of the ACCC, prior to 13 July 2017, to make a recommendation to the Minister to issue a safety warning notice in relation to the Takata airbag recalls.1041

692. If the ACCC was waiting for a risk to materialise to justify a sparingly used strategy to bring to public attention the need to respond to a recall of Takata airbags, the most obvious time that the ACCC should have approached the Minister to issue a Safety Warning Notice was in April 2017 following the Northern Territory injury.”

Some more specific findings by the deputy coroner were as follows:

1. Was there a lack of clarity and substantial confusion between ACCC and DIRD as to their respective roles in the monitoring of the Takata airbags voluntary recalls generally and specifically in regard to the 5ZV recall

Essentially yes, in that eg despite an inter-agency MoU “the ACCC did not know that DIRD did not have any process of its own in regard to the suppliers’ recall strategies nor did it know that the suppliers were not submitting their recall strategies to DIRD” (para 727). Furthermore (at p219), the coroner did not accept:

“the ACCC submissions that the ACCC had no basis to challenge or question Honda Australia’s description of the defect, hazard and risk contained in the 5ZV recall notification. It should have sought to clarify whether the defect would have the same effect and risk as other Takata airbag defects – namely the “inflator rupture causing metal fragments” to strike a vehicle occupant. Without clarifying whether the 5ZV recall involved the same hazard as then known to exist with the previous recalls, given there was no evidence suggesting that there was some other hazard, it would seem that the ACCC, DIRD and the suppliers proceeded on the basis that it was the same hazard but because the recall was classified as “precautionary” or “preventative” the hazard wasn’t appropriately described. That it was not clarified or corrected resulted in a failure to ensure that the public was adequately warned of the dangers of the defective airbags. Likewise, as previously discussed, Honda Australia failed to make due inquiry with Honda Japan in this regard though appeared to be aware that Honda Japan was using the terms preventative and precautionary as discussed above.

734. Counsel Assisting’s phrase of “lack of clarity” or “substantial confusion” is a measured term and the submissions advanced by DIRD and the ACCC demonstrate rather than diminish the disparity between the ACCC and DIRD as to their understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities when there is ample evidence that such disparity existed.”

3. Should DIRD and the ACCC have directly raised with Honda Australia that its consumer recall letters should not include tentative language such as “preventative measure” and “precautionary action” and that the letters did not clearly refer to the nature of the defect and the risk of death or injury in 2015 and 2016.

4. Should DIRD have sought from Honda Australia the 5ZV consumer recall letters.

Again, yes (p 211):

“… DIRD should have obtained at least one of the 5ZV recall letters by following up the request made in August 2015 or preferably by specifically making a new request for the 5ZV recall. Had DIRD received the 5ZV recall consumer letter/s, it appears unlikely that DIRD would have identified and taken action in respect of the issues which were concerning to Professor Nottage in late 2015 or indeed Mr Thomas in mid-2015 in relation to the letter he received for his own Honda vehicle. Those issues should have identified and been formally raised with Honda Australia. Again, whether DIRD would have done so had it obtained a copy of the 5ZV consumer letter is questionable given its position as to DIRD’s limited role and function. At the least it should have identified that the defect and risk were inadequately described in that it did not mention that metal fragments could cause injury or death to a vehicle occupant.

741. Likewise, the issues raised by Professor Nottage in 2015 should have been formally raised with Honda Australia by the ACCC or by DIRD at the request of the ACCC. There was no process in place for DIRD to be tasked with raising it directly with Honda Australia. Raising it generically in a TAWG meeting was, in the circumstances, inadequate.”

5. Should, prior to July 2017, the ACCC and/or DIRD have taken steps to publicise the risks posed by defective Takata airbags by way of its own media announcement or by co-ordinating a media campaign with the industry.

Yes (at p222-3), with the deputy coroner accepting:

“counsel for the ACCC and DIRD’s submissions that it was for the suppliers to co-ordinate and promote an advertising campaign, and though the ACCC and DIRD could encourage a wider campaign, neither agency had power to compel one. However, rather than adopting a reactive media posture which on one view could be thought to resemble a reluctance to publicise the Takata recalls, both agencies could have adopted a pro-active media posture on their own accord as well as encouraging industry, and in this case Honda Australia specifically, to engage in a public campaign.

749. Whilst the recall was voluntary and neither agency had powers to compel the industry to adopt such a strategy (in the absence of any compulsory recall then having been commenced), a supplier’s refusal or failure to engage in such a campaign strategy could have been an escalation criteria [sic] by which the agencies could measure the progress of the recall, and which may have motivated industry to engage in such a campaign. Advertising campaign aside, the MOU allowed for the joint settling of media releases issued by the ACCC or DIRD. The only media release that was prepared related to what would be issued in the event of a misdeployment event, rather than considering how the government could bring the recalls to the attention of the Australian public, for the sake of the public safety, in advance of any such incident. As Professor Nottage wrote to Mr Ridgeway at the ACCC at the end of 2015, a government media release incurred no cost. There is no good reason why DIRD and the ACCC failed to issue such a release. Likewise, there was no good reason why Honda Australia failed to do so, particularly given the scale of the recall. 

8. If the ACCC or DIRD had not missed the opportunities to bring the defect and risk of the Takata airbag to public notice, is it likely the Ngo/Chea vehicle airbag would have been replaced earlier thus preventing Mr Ngo’s death

Yes (pp225-6):

“…Ms Chea and her family did not know about the Takata airbag recall and when in March Ms Chea did learn of it having collected the registered letter, she had, within the week, booked the vehicle into Peter Warren’s service department for recall replacement. Had she learned of the defect earlier, it would appear that she would have made an earlier appointment. Likewise, had Julie Ngo been aware of the risk of the defective airbag she would have likely insisted that it be replaced on 11 July 2017. Whilst it is not possible to conclude that any action or inaction of the government agencies did contribute to Mr Ngo’s death, it is likewise not possible to conclude any action or inaction on their part did not contribute to Mr Ngo’s death.

757. Counsel for DIRD point out that Ms Chea says that she only received the March 2017 letter. That is the one she responded to. That letter had a clearer content consistent with the Blomquist Report and correctly identified the defect, hazard and risk. Had that information been contained in an earlier letter and received by Ms Chea or a family member then it is likely the Vehicle would have been booked in at an earlier time. Had there been public announcements then other persons who had received the earlier letters may have been able to identify the importance of the recall and brought it to Ms Chea’s attention.

758. As is apparent from the foregoing responses, I agree with the position advanced by Counsel Assisting. I make the finding that due to a lack of clarity and at times substantial confusion as to the respective roles of DIRD and the ACCC, together with the lack of a documented escalation process against which to monitor and advance the progress of the recall, the ACCC and DIRD inadequately administered and monitored the Takata Airbag voluntary recalls during the period July 2015 to July 2017. The inadequacy particularly arose in that there was a failure to ensure that the defect and hazard of the Takata airbag subject to the Honda Australia 5ZV recall was properly described to the Australian public on the ACCC’s PSA website, in the Honda Australia letters to consumers, or by Australian public media broadcasts in a timely and adequate manner.”

In conclusion, the deputy coroner added multiple recommendations for better monitoring of vehicle recalls in future (p226 et seq), in the context of some legislative reforms already underway.

* * *

Despite these quite critical findings and recommendations in November 2021, as of early May 2022 there seem to be no Australian newspaper reports on them, although there was some other Takata airbag fatality news in mid-2021.[8] Perhaps the lack of mainstream Australian media reporting on the inquest findings is because Mr Ngo’s death is sadly considered “old news”, and other fatalities or accidents are more widespread or vivid (especially after several years of deaths and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic). Yet it seems important that government officials and regulatory systems are held to account, and that lessons are learned and communicated from careful inquiries like inquests in order to improve consumer product safety law and practice.

Indeed, an article published online on 9 December 2021 by a smaller journalistic outlet reported that a former ACCC official allegedly lost his job in 2018 after some of his concerns went public that the Commission was not doing enough about the Takata recall:[9]

“… Three years ago an anonymous Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) official was frogmarched out of his office — and later threatened with criminal action — after internal emails became public via a television exposé on the Takata airbag scandal.

The official was concerned the ACCC had not reacted quickly enough on the threat to public safety of the potentially deadly airbags and used its powers only after a driver was killed by shrapnel from an exploding airbag which penetrated his neck, causing him to bleed to death.

Now a coroner’s hearing has confirmed that many of the official’s warnings were on the mark. 

For one thing it means the official feels confident about revealing his identity. His name is Dean Wright. He held a senior executive level position as assistant director of the ACCC’s product safety branch and he was 52 at the time.”

“I am entirely comfortable with what I did,” Wright told Crikey. “I felt I had no choice.

“I don’t regret my part in revealing the truth about the years of dithering. I’d like to believe that the coronial court’s recommendations will save lives and prevent further horrific injuries.”

Does he feel he is owed an apology? 

“Yes. That would be the right thing to do, but more to the point the ACCC owes the public an apology for not being truthful.”

The ACCC said it did not propose to comment on Wright’s “actions or opinions”. It also said it had “identified and implemented a number of lessons drawn from the inquest” before the coroner’s report was released and was working on others.”

Meanwhile, perhaps in the light of the inquest, a class action brought in the NSW Supreme Court against Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Nissan, Mazda and BMW reached a mediated settlement in September 2021 for A$52m (including $15m for the plaintiffs’ lawyers!). A specialist media outlet report noted furthermore that:[10]

“In August, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched legal action against Mercedes-Benz, accusing it of minimising the risk of serious injury of death from the faulty Takata products. The ACCC alleges Mercedes-Benz staff downplayed the risks “on at least 73 occasions,” stating the recall was precautionary in nature and “there had been no incidents, accidents, injuries or deaths … at all,” despite there already having been one fatality in Australia at that time and one serious injury recorded.”

The saga therefore continues, so there may still be scope for the wider public to learn what really went on from the Takata airbag debacle, and the lessons that can be drawn more generally for consumer law and policy in Australia and beyond. There have been longstanding concerns particularly about Australia’s lack of clarity and impact of the law on recalls (and mandatory accident reporting) and insufficient coordination or leadership from the ACCC and state/territory regulators vis-a-vis specialist regulators (as pointed out eg in 2013, prompted by a problem reported regarding Volkswagen – even before its fake diesel emissions disclosure scandal).



[1] For background into the NSW law and practice around appearing in coronial inquests, see eg https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiBzo2WzdH3AhUiyzgGHT86AZUQFnoECAQQAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww5.austlii.edu.au%2Fau%2Fjournals%2FNSWBarAssocNews%2F2014%2F12.pdf&usg=AOvVaw30yvr7BIPzuS0Gx25wPu3D

[2] https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/car-manufacturers-complete-999-per-cent-of-takata-airbag-recall

[3] See eg https://www.choice.com.au/transport/cars/general/articles/unprecendented-mandatory-recall-takata-airbags-280218

[4] https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/nsw-inquest-into-death-of-sydney-driver-to-examine-takata-airbag-risks/n4kk69rs4 and https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-23/faulty-takata-airbag-coroner-inquiry-death-cabramatta-man/11538628

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/22/regulators-knew-of-two-takata-accidents-before-a-sydney-mans-death-inquest-told

[6] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/faulty-airbag-at-centre-of-recall-to-blame-for-death-of-sydney-man-20170721-gxg5yj.html

[7]  https://coroners.nsw.gov.au/coroners-court/download.html/documents/findings/2021/Inquest_into_the_death_of_Huy_Neng_Ngo_-_Findings.pdf via https://coroners.nsw.gov.au.

[8] https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au › nsw › news-story: 3 June 2021 — “The ACCC has found a third Australian was killed by a Takata airbag, raising questions about why there was not a coronial inquest.”

[9] https://www.crikey.com.au/2021/12/09/accc-whistleblower-vindicated-steps-out-of-shadows/

[10] https://www.whichcar.com.au/car-news/takata-lawsuits-in-nsw-settled-by-major-car-companies-for-52-million

ANJeL Team Australia runners-up again in Tokyo moot competition!

The cross-institutional Team Australia has put in a great effort to come 2nd overall again at the 20th Intercollegiate Negotiation Competition held (remotely) “in” Tokyo. Pipped by the National University of Singapore, but ahead of the University of Tokyo. Well done also to Chulalongkorn University, where USydney also has close links, for coming fifth overall.

Congratulations to our law students Hasan Mohammad (who also won the ANJeL Akira Kawamura Prize for the Sydney Law School Japanese Law course last semester) and Sarah Tang (completing our International Commercial Arbitration course this semester)!

The teams from Japan and abroad hone and display skills in arbitrating disputes applying the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts, as well as negotiating and documenting a complex cross-border joint venture agreement. Team Australia won the Squire Patton Boggs prize for the best performance in the English-language round (also in 2018, when the Team came first), and won the ANJeL Prize for Teamwork (also won in 2019, when runners-up overall – as in 2020).

Terrific achievement given the extra stresses of lockdowns and other challenges for this year’s Team Australia students, mainly from USydney and ANU, as well as the difficult end-of-year timing. Unlike last year, Team Australia students were unable to meet in Canberra for a training weekend.

Many thanks for support from past mooters / graduates including our Stephen Ke, CAPLUS associate and former SLS RA / tutor Dr Nobumichi Teramura (now Assistant Professor at UBrunei), and especially coach and ANJeL advisor Prof Veronica Taylor from ANU. DFAT has also committed “New Colombo Plan” travel funding that we hope will become available next year so our students can compete in person in Tokyo.

More information can be found at https://www.teamaustralia-inc.net/ and https://www.negocom.jp/eng/.