Case note Berry v CCL Secure Pty Ltd [2020] HCA 27

In Berry v CCL Secure Pty Ltd [2020] HCA 27 misleading conduct caused the claimant to sign a contractual termination letter. All members of the court agreed in the result. An issue was the impact of a potential right to terminate the contract lawfully. The court clarified a number of matters relating to practice, and in particular, the onus of proof, which are worth noting.

The plurality, Bell, Keane and Nettle JJ, said at [39]: ‘although a claimant bears the burden of proof in the sense of the ultimate burden of establishing its case on the balance of probabilities, the burden of proof in the sense of introducing evidence is liable to shift constantly “according as one scale of evidence or the other preponderates”. Consequently, where, as here, it is established on the balance of probabilities that a wrongdoer purposely chose to achieve a certain result by means of a calculated deceit, the natural inference is that the wrongdoer was not and would not have been prepared to bring about that result by lawful means. … So, in the absence of contrary evidence, it may be inferred that the reason for engaging in the fraud was sufficient to dissuade the fraudster from proceeding by lawful means. The evidential burden thereupon shifts to the fraudster to adduce evidence sufficient to establish that, if it had not acted as it did, it would have been prepared to bring about the same result by lawful means. And in the absence of such evidence, it is fair to infer that there was not a realistic possibility of that occurring.’

Gageler and Edelman JJ also observed that, in the ordinary case, the pleaded counterfactuals limited the fact finding required by the court re causation.


Robert Quirk

Higgins Chambers

8 September 2020