eDiscovery and eTrials in the Supreme Court of Queensland

27 June 2019
Scott Couper, Partner, Brisbane

Litigation can be costly. In particular, the discovery stage can form one of the most expensive phases of the litigation process. The Court and practitioners alike are increasingly turning to technological solutions to reduce the time and cost of the discovery process. Taking into account such factors, Gadens were recently involved in a proceeding in the Supreme Court of Queensland in which the parties undertook electronic discovery (eDiscovery), followed by an electronic trial (eTrial).


Why adopt a technological approach to discovery?

The significant amount of electronically stored information (particularly emails) means that the traditional method of hard copy discovery is sometimes not appropriate and undertaking a cost-effective manual review of this information is simply unrealistic.

The process of electronic discovery and the use of technology assisted review (also known as “TAR“) is gaining momentum both within Australia and internationally. This is because the amount of documents stored electronically has dramatically increased in recent times and parties are adopting a proportionate approach to the review of large document sets in litigation.


“TAR” – how does it work?

TAR is a process whereby a computer system is ‘trained’ to identify documents which are relevant to issues in the proceedings. A set of criteria, including for example date ranges and key words, are decided upon for the inclusion of documents. The documents that do not meet this criteria are excluded. A representative ‘sample’ is then provided for human review, typically by a single senior lawyer, so that they are sufficiently familiar with the issues involved in the proceedings and to ensure consistency in the approach. Once that sample has been reviewed, the system then ‘learns’ from that initial review to predict the relevance of further documents and undertakes a process of categorising documents as relevant or not.


What is the Court’s approach?

The use of TAR has been adopted in jurisdictions including the UK in Pyrrho Investments Ltd v MWB Property Ltd [1] and David Brown v BCA Trading,[2] Ireland in Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Ltd & Ors v Quinn & Ors[3] and in the US in Rio Tinto v Vale.[4]

The Australian Courts have also demonstrated a willingness to adopt eDiscovery and assisted review processes. The Supreme Court of Victoria led the way. In 2016, it delivered the first Australian case endorsing the use of this type of technology in the decision of McConnell Dowell Constructors (Aust) Pty Ltd v Santam Ltd & Ors[5].

This case involved a large claim concerning the design and construction of a natural gas pipeline in Queensland. There were originally 4 million documents which had been identified as relevant in the proceedings, which was later reduced to 1.4 million. Notwithstanding this reduction, the Court observed that “traditional manual discovery of the Plaintiff’s documents is not likely to be either cost effective or proportionate“.[6]

As a consequence, the Court ordered the appointment of a Special Referee to report to the Court on questions relating to the appropriate management of discovery in the proceedings. Following this process, and after consultation with the parties, the Special Referee made recommendations to the Court which included the use of TAR in the discovery process. This recommendation was endorsed by the Court and orders were made giving effect to an appropriate protocol for this to occur.

Courts are now requiring parties to consider electronic document management in the conduct of matters. By way of example, the Supreme Court of Queensland has issued practice direction 2018/18 which directs litigants to adopt a proportionate and efficient approach to the management of both paper and electronic documents at all stages of the litigation.


Gadens’ eDiscovery experience

In our recent Supreme Court Proceedings, eDiscovery was undertaken given the vast majority of documents in that case were stored electronically on servers maintained by the relevant plaintiff company. In total, the stored documents comprised millions of records.

In order to limit the scope of the documents, the parties agreed to apply key word searches over the electronic information to limit the review of documents to only those which were potentially relevant to issues in the proceedings. In addition to the key word searches, the plaintiff also adopted the following technological tools:

  • de-duplication, which eliminated any duplicate documents from the review process; and
  • email threading. This process gathers in a single email conversation the original email and all of the subsequent replies and forwards pertaining to that original email. Only emails containing unique content, not included in any other email, were reviewed.

These tools were vital to reducing the time (and cost of) human review undertaken by a senior solicitor to review the documents for discovery purposes.



In the same way that eDiscovery is being adopted by parties and Courts alike, so too are eTrials. An eTrial is typically used for larger cases involving more than 500 key documents, or complex cases where there are multiple parties.


Gadens’ eTrials experience

In our recent Supreme Court Proceedings, the parties agreed to conduct an eTrial in circumstances where discovery had been undertaken electronically. The parties engaged the assistance of an external service provider to assist with the evidence presentation in the court room, including managing the document presentation throughout the trial, hosting the online eCourtbook and managing document uploads to the eCourtbook.

The advantages of proceeding with an eTrial included that:

  1. the documents were already in electronic format and a protocol had already been agreed to regarding the discovery of these documents;
  2. there were significant reductions in paper handling and photocopying of the courtbook, which was instead managed electronically;
  3. documents could be uploaded to the online eCourtbook instantaneously, including transcripts;
  4. submissions and other documents (including affidavits of the evidence in chief) could be hyperlinked to relevant documents.


Key takeaway 

While the process of eDiscovery, the use of assisted review technology and the conduct of eTrials is not yet commonplace, it is likely that these processes will be adopted more frequently by parties. Given the time and cost efficiencies to be gained, it is likely that the Courts will increasingly encourage the adoption of these technological processes moving forward.

[1][2016] EWHC 256 (Ch).

[2] [2016] EWHC 1464 (Ch).

[3] [2015] IEHC 175.

[4] 14 Civ 3042 (RMP)(AJP) (2 March 2015).

[5] (No 1) [2016] VSC 734.

[6] Ibid [7].

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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