This essay question addressed the issue of the increase in mass torts and class actions in Australia, which Andrew and John argued against. Disagreeing with the possible premise of the question, they sought to ‘clear the field’ to make a different argument.

While accepting that the description of class actions as ‘privatised regulation’ has gained traction in Australia and elsewhere, the authors rejected the idea:

‘The description is inaccurate and distorts the true relationship between regulation, tort law and procedural law …. tort law cannot be described as a form of regulation because the two are different modalities of law and the class action procedure does not change this.’

Their winning 8-thousand-word essay works as both a critical response to the question and a fresh way of viewing the issues.

The judging panel of former High Court Justice, William Gummow AC KC, Federal Court Judge Catherine Button and ANU Emeritus Professor Peta Spender praised the high quality of the essay submissions:

‘All the essays demonstrated interesting perspectives on the question and a good command of the literature and debates about class actions. However, the winning entry was sophisticated, original, and provocative and is sure to generate further debate about this controversial area.’

Both Professor Higgins and John Yap are delighted to have won the competition, and for John, the shared $10 000 award is particularly helpful:

‘Needless to say, as a current bar course student in London, the generous prize from the AAL is welcome support along what can sometimes feel like a never-ending journey to qualifying as a barrister.’

Having taught John at Mansfield College, and knowing his extraordinarily bright student who always has useful insights into whatever area of law he turns his mind to, Professor Higgins had no hesitation in joining forces with him:

‘My main areas of academic research and teaching are civil justice systems and tort law. Also, as a practising barrister, I specialise in mass tort litigation so the question for this year’s competition felt like my lucky numbers had come up. Because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what class actions are designed and not designed to do, I felt almost professionally obliged to submit an entry.’

The winning essay is on the AAL website and will be published in an upcoming edition of the Australian Law Journal.


About Andrew and John

Professor Andrew Higgins is a practicing barrister in Victoria and an Oxford University Professor of Civil Justice Systems at the Law Faculty, as well as a Fellow in Law at Mansfield College. John Yap, his former student, recently completed his Oxford Bachelor of Civil Law and now teaches contract law at Mansfield College, concurrently pursuing qualification as a barrister in London.


John (left), Ross Cranston (centre) and Andrew (right), receiving their prize certificates