Hot List lawyer profile: Ashley Wharton

Even after working on one of the longest cases in Australian history, this top-tier litigator still loves the challenges that come with large-scale disputes

Ashley Wharton’s skill, dogged determination and endurance in Australia’s longest-running commercial litigation gave him a well-deserved spot in Australasian Lawyer’s Hot List of lawyers for this year.

Wharton led Ashurst in representing the liquidators in the landmark Bell Group litigation in Perth which involved a whopping 20 years of legal action.  The case climaxed in a three-year-long trial and pushed the Perth legal scene to its limits.

“The most challenging part was simply maintaining and leading a large group of lawyers, many of whom were still practising out of their home jurisdictions,” Wharton told Australasian Lawyer.  “The matter was almost too large in scale for the Perth market.  We had a lot of lawyers on contracts and we had to get a lot from overseas too.  It was a huge project.”

Wharton said that the slow-burning trial was an extraordinary enterprise for all concerned due to the need for a very large team of counsel which meant having to work out all sorts of new systems for working together efficiently.

“The case took much longer than people had expected, but after a while it settled into a rhythm and it became easier to manage the workload,” Wharton said.

Having moved to Perth in 1998 to work on the matter, Wharton said that the most frustrating part of the litigation for himself and his family was not knowing how long it would take and when it would come to trial.

Nevertheless, Wharton still remains an enthusiastic lawyer after the 2,643-page judgement was eventually handed down. 

“I really like working in disputes because of the sharpness needed when you get to confront leading issues where points are contested vigorously,” he says.

More recently, Wharton has shown he is still keen to work on the biggest cases in the country.  He is now leading the team representing ANZ in the defence of the exception fees class action in the Federal Court in Melbourne – Australia’s largest-ever consumer class action.

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