15 September 2023

Calvary Health Care must pay legal fees for its attempt to stop Bruce hospital takeover

| Albert McKnight
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sign outside Calvary Hospital

The government took control of Calvary Public Hospital, now the North Canberra Hospital, earlier this year. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Calvary Health Care ACT has been ordered to pay most of the legal costs from its attempt to derail the compulsory acquisition of the hospital in Bruce earlier this year.

On Thursday (14 September), the ACT Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Lucy McCallum returned to the courtroom and announced that Calvary Health Care must pay the costs to the ACT Government that were incurred until 28 June 2023. The court did not state the sum to be paid.

The government had passed legislation to take over Calvary Public Hospital, now the North Canberra Hospital, earlier this year in a forcible transition.

Calvary Health Care took the decision to the Supreme Court and asked for the law allowing for the forcible takeover of the hospital’s land and assets to be ruled invalid. This attempt was dismissed in June.

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On 29 June, amendments were made to a regulation Calvary had challenged. The following month it told the court it would discontinue its proceedings regarding this regulation.

Its concerns had revolved around the “just terms” of the takeover.

In the published decision from Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s three justices said Calvary had argued the amendments were made in response to the hearings on the case and claimed if the amendments were not made then it was likely the regulation would have been found to be invalid. Calvary argued each side should bear its own costs.

The ACT Government noted Calvary had been “wholly unsuccessful” in its legal challenge and had also wanted to discontinue any remaining challenge to the regulation.

The court’s justices said an explanatory statement on the regulation’s amendment read: “The regulation has been made in response to tentative concerns expressed in the Supreme Court proceeding.”

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However, the justices said in this case, the court had determined the principal issue between the parties, then some subsidiary arguments which remained available to Calvary had been addressed by the amendments to the regulation.

The justices said the appropriate outcome regarding costs would recognise Calvary’s failure in its legal challenge to prevent the acquisition of the hospital as well as how Calvary’s challenge to the regulation had been “conducted reasonably”.

“That outcome can be achieved by ordering that the plaintiff pay the defendant’s costs up until the date of the amendment regulation and ordering that there be no order as to costs after that date,” the justices said.

Earlier this week, the Senate voted down Liberal National Senator Matt Canavan’s bill that would have forced the ACT to conduct an inquiry into the compulsory acquisition of the hospital.

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