But Crown wanted the inquiry to be delayed or held in private. Its lawyers argued that preparing for the inquiry as well as class action hearings set for November would “impose a significant personal burden” on the witnesses which “may be oppressive” and “may be quite dangerous for their wellbeing”, according to a written discission released by the inquiry. Crown
Neil Young, QC, appearing for Crown, said witnesses giving evidence twice in a short space of time and undergoing repeat cross-examination could prejudice Crown in the class action.
Going ahead with the public hearings could result in “untold damage” to Crown and possibly “amount to an interference with the administration of justice in the Federal Court”.
He raised the issue of Crown’s former head of VIP operations, Jason O’Connor, whose 10 months in a Chinese jail was “particularly harrowing”.
In dismissing Crown’s application, Commissioner Patricia Bergin, SC, said it was not uncommon for Commissions of Inquiry or Royal Commissions and civil, criminal or regulatory proceedings to run concurrently, while finding argument about the burden on witnesses “really not an issue”.
“The environment of a witness box is not a place of comfort,” she said. However, she said the inquiry could adjust its process to accommodate any witnesses with particular vulnerabilities.
The former NSW Supreme Court judge said it was important for the inquiry to consider whether Crown put its staff at risk of arrest in China, whether its directors knew about those risks and what changes the company made after the scandal.
Commissioner Bergin said the commission would ensure claims of legal privilege against evidence from the class action were not compromised. But protecting that privilege, she said, did not require the entire hearing on the China arrests to be “excluded from public gaze”.
The inquiry will resume public hearings on Monday, with Mr Craigie and Mr Felstead due to appear over the course of the week.