Freakonomics

Some actually believe that they are entitled to more than others, that somehow the colour of their skin and how popular they are determines this privilege. They grow up being served and like a spoilt child who with a cry or with a scream can ensure he gets what he wants, he grows up to believe that despite doing nothing for this world, despite having nothing interesting about him, everyone will still adore him as he did growing up. He then continues by injecting steroids into his system to physically appear masculine and finding a stupid, attractive girlfriend and there you have it, the image of perfection and happiness, just like the millions of others doing the exact same thing because they think the exact same thing. These young men then interact with virtual reality by playing violent video games to give them artificial feelings of strength and power to compensate for the powerlessness they feel to be themselves. I think this quote perfectly epitomises the biggest problem in our society today: “It means that mummy and daddy have been spoiling you, and now you think that the world owes you something, but it doesn’t. And if you don’t learn how to work hard now, then you’re going to just grow up to be like another entitled little white dude who thinks he’s awesome for no reason. And then you’ll start a Ska Band and it’ll be awful and you’ll be mean to girls, and you’ll grow this ironic moustache to look interesting but you won’t actually be interesting, and I’m not okay with that.” [1]

And yet, if so many millions think that happiness is attainable by these superficial means, suddenly this imagined ideal requires ugly people to go, the elderly need to be hidden away, where rape, terrible violence, poverty are somehow swept under the carpet so that life becomes perfectly singular. If you deviate from this norm you are damaged and need to be removed, just like a divorced child is outcast in a society that regulates marriage. It is a social pathology of being ‘normal’ and that suddenly – despite being superficial in order to achieve this normalcy – you are safe and secure from the terror of being different and the isolation of being disliked. A pathology explains a mental state engaged in constant maladaptive behaviour and actual reality becomes a shadow, an imagined state and like a neurological disease it has somehow become broadly acceptable because it blinds our fear to recognise the absolute futility and vanity of our behaviour. “Let them eat cake!”

Has a parasite infected the minds of the masses or am I unable to recognise that such mindlessness is a necessary component for a functioning economy, that despite the absence of a moral compass, capitalism requires men to believe that the drudgery of their existence, the deep and incredibly profound boredom that they feel is nevertheless worthy, that they are important and that they are the best human that they can be? The amount of money that women spend on cosmetics is reprehensible – the average woman in Australia spends up to $3,600 on beauty products each year – and the fact that millions upon millions of women are doing the same thing in this highly competitive space that makes all of them look and appear the same, starving themselves, changing their bodies, and acting or behaving ‘nice’ makes me wonder how terrible our spending priorities have become.

Capitalism needs people to imagine individuality. Benedict Anderson wrote of Imagined Communities that examines how nationalism emerges out of our creation of a community as it forms through the discourses that are generated by the capitalist marketplace where we start to construct likes and dislikes that enables people to think in masses. For Karl Marx, the competition forms a monopoly that perpetuates a great divide between the wealthy and the exploited and thus the incentive for wealth sows the seeds of its own destruction. For Foucault, the discourses strengthens the social network and can effectively enable positive relations despite there being no real ‘truth’ in what is broadly accepted as truth.

“I think that the word bored does not get the attention it deserves. We speak of all sorts of terrible things that happen to people, but we rarely speak about one of the most terrible things of all: that is, being bored, being bored alone and, worse than that, being bored together.”

I realised that I lack sympathy, that my disgust for those types of people who believe in the vanity of appearances and spend money on fashion and make-up and who follow an image of “good” behaviour despite the shallowness and emptiness of who they are, deserves more compassion. These people are trapped in that constant repetition, they are paralysed by a fear of confronting reality because if they do, if they become conscious that their existence as merely a tiny, irrelevant speck attached to a delusional mass, the system would collapse. Would that be a good thing?

In the book Freakonomics, there is the exploration of the immoral that is formed within this system, that ‘good behaviour’ is in fact a disguise rooted by incentives that compel people to act as long as they receive something that they want in return. Even with our relationships with one another, it is not about being honest or humane but whether or not there is an incentive, something that I can receive in return. In Japan, for instance, society ignored that match-fixing existed in the realm of Sumo wrestling and that the violence and abuse of this hierarchical and highly competitive system was impossible. The terrible truth was eclipsed by tradition and the image of something beautiful and perfect. Like the myth of Narcissus who viewed his own reflection and fell in love with his own image, he no longer lived neither as a man or a hunter and died staring at himself.

300px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

I decided that while the system is there for a reason, it is morally broken. The supplementary book Think Like A Freak speaks of the “upside of quitting” and that by thinking like a ‘freak’ and therefore challenging the norm in an absence of fear can lead one to greater success and happiness.  As said by the authors: “Quitting is hard because it is equated with failure, and nobody likes to fail, or at least be seen failing. But is failure so terrible? We don’t think so.” If society functions under an imagined landscape where our moral compass is really just ignoring the bad things that are happening or pretending that there are no vulnerable that need our help, that there is happiness in the objects or things that we buy, it offers the opportunity for politicians and institutions to take advantage of this propensity to self-deceit. They begin to irrationally consume and forget the importance of our humanity.

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Translating our understanding of the world realistically based on economic terms may actually benefit us. The system won’t collapse. It will improve, no matter how terrible we think the outcome will be. “When failure is demonized, people will try to avoid it at all costs—even when it represents nothing more than a temporary setback.” Whatever the change is, whether it is job, partner or friends, what might appear to be the complete destruction of your life is just a temporary set back to something better. That way, our moral compass becomes real and impenetrable.

I have spent so long pointlessly trying to fight against the grain of social cliche and have decided to spend my time actually making a difference.

Business Law and Vicarious Liability

Business law is complex and international business law is even more convoluted. Definitions of terms such as ’employment’ itself is wholly ambiguous, thus making it difficult to ascertain what legal rights people have in the workplace both for employees and employers. Vicarious liability exposes this complexity. It is a common law principle that purports liability by an employer for the tortious acts of an employee delegated duties as requested and entrusted to act on their behalf. As a legal term, vicarious liability confirms that employers are thus responsible for negligible acts pertaining to discrimination and harassment that occur within the workplace by supervisors and management, individual or group employees, and agencies and contract workers with the ambiguity of the latter certainly exposing the complexity of the subject. It is complicated as an Australian legal doctrine primarily because of the absence of a clear and distinct definition vis-à-vis the various legislative formulations and the broad scope utilised by Australian federal, state and territory jurisdictions along with a culmination of common law interpretations. In addition to this complication, civil cases particularly pertaining to discrimination rarely reach the court due to the associated costs of such litigation and tend to be resolved prior through conciliation.

Employers must ensure that they have taken reasonable steps to demonstrate their commitment to the prevention of any form of discrimination and harassment as required by both Victorian and Federal legislation to prevent liability claims made against them, the liability itself used as a deterred to prevent human rights abuses. Whilst vicarious liability is customarily applied using judicial precedents rather than relying solely on legislation, in some cases particularly relating to sexual harassment the interaction with other provisions can effect and ultimately lead to an incongruous result, for instance in Jones v Tower Boot Co Ltd that exposes the necessary reach of vicarious liability – where an employee commits a serious act of sexual harassment though off-duty and thus appears that the employer is less likely to be liable as a consequence – in addition to claimants selecting one jurisdiction to reduce this probability of an absurd conclusion. The custom to utilise judicial precedents and thus apply the ‘Golden Rule’ of law, namely, to ensure that courts take a purposive statutory approach by appreciating the aim and purpose of the law and thus apply a fluid and flexible method favouring justice for the people, is in effect the reason for maintaining the broad and thus ambiguous definition of vicarious liability.

In order to initiate a better understanding of the subject, it is vital to establish an introduction on the scope of and interactions between legislations within the limitation of a non-exhaustive blog post, thus a brief account of anti-discrimination, human rights and industrial laws. Thus to begin, what exactly constitutes discrimination? In part two of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), discrimination is defined as, “direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of an attribute.”[1] Direct discrimination is clearly purposed to treat an individual discriminately based on any of the attributes, whilst indirect discrimination occurs when a condition, practice or any such imposition that is likely to result or have an effect on an individual that disadvantages them due to an attribute.[2] These attributes include age, sex, disability, race and religion amongst others.[3] Discrimination can go even further, such as an individual’ past or intellectual capacity [too smart, not smart enough] or other physical attributes etc &c. As employers themselves must ensure that they do not breach their obligations as set by the law and reiterating the previously mentioned Golden Rule, namely that the law has be established to protect the rights of citizens and democratic principles in general, the scope of vicarious liability sits under the umbrella of human rights.

Generally, the scope of industrial laws fails to afford the protections offered by established anti-discrimination laws. In Victoria, this would include the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) along with the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). In addition, a complainant must select which jurisdiction – namely State or Federal – they wish to pursue the proceedings. Under section twelve of the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) it states that a person is not entitled to institute a proceeding if a law relating to discrimination is dealt with by the State of Territory,[4] thus a complaint can be lodged at the statutory commission within their state jurisdiction; however if so, they cannot proceed the complaint to federal anti-discrimination laws and jurisdiction. What that means is that if a complainant initiates a case under Victorian anti-discrimination law, they are not permitted to withdraw and apply for a recourse under Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws. Similar requirements are stated in other legislations,[5] thus confirming that if someone has already made a complaint under Victorian legislation is therefore unable to commence proceedings at federal level. Nevertheless, there are differences between state and federal anti-discrimination laws – whilst minor – can impact on the application and operation of the law, as a consequence the complainant can initiate and select which jurisdiction they would prefer the proceedings to fall under (dependant on the scope and details of the claim made against the employer). While the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) functions similarly to federal anti-discrimination law, an example of these differences can be seen between the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) that states “circumstances are not materially different because of the fact that, because of the disability, the aggrieved person requires adjustments”[6] obligations of which render a difference to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic).

To continue further and assist with the amplification of pre-existing knowledge hidden in the corners of my mind, what exactly is vicarious liability? According to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, vicarious liability is a person or agent engaging in conduct that contravenes discrimination as described earlier along with sexual harassment regulations as prohibited by the act.[7] Sexual harassment is defined as an unwelcome sexual advance or requests for sexual favours along with conduct of a sexual nature that offends, humiliates or intimidates.[8] In order to assess whether it is a vicarious liability claim, the negligible behaviour must have occurred during employment in addition to whether the employer has failed to take reasonable steps to prevent such contravention of the abovementioned.[9] “A person who employs others to advance his own economic interest should in fairness be placed under a corresponding liability for losses incurred in the course of the enterprise.”[10] In addition, vicarious liability holds a broader function, namely that the legislative obligations and requirements by employers works as a preventative measure or deterrent to reduce risk of harm against an employee. The ambiguity of vicarious liability lies in understanding the definition of an employee and of even the period during which one is employed. As said by CJ Gleeson, “Lord Wilberforce made the point that to describe a person as the agent of another, in this context, is to express a conclusion that vicarious liability exists, rather than to state a reason for such a conclusion. Nevertheless, some judges refer to agency as a criterion of liability, similar to employment. If that is to be done, it is necessary to be more particular as to what is meant.”[11]

This is clearly observable when ascertaining the difference between a contractor and an employee. While it is generally viewed that independent contractors that are assigned employment carry out the required duties under the principle that they are in business for themselves and as such employers are not held vicariously liable, this has been proven not to be an absolute principle and there are instances in which the employer is deemed responsible for the negligent acts by independent contactors. In Sweeney V Boylan Nominees[12] the High Court rejected the vicarious claim made against the respondent for an injury against the appellant, who had entered a service station owned by Boylan Nominees and opened a refrigerator door that was not correctly serviced by an independent contractor that resulted in injury. Initially, this area of tort law held an employer to be liable for the tortuous acts of an employee but not a contractor as cited in Quarman v Burnett (1840)[13] however as continuous employment conditions and changes within the Australian labour market occur, the concept of contractors and vicarious liability challenges the meaning of what it is to be considered as an employee. Changes to interpreting the relationship between employer and contractor utilising the control test method – namely the attempt to ascertain the degree of control an employer has over a contractor – has also developed in preference for an analysis of the totality of the relationship.[14]

This test of ascertaining the status of an employee in contrasted in the case of Hollis v Vabu[15] that applies indicators which overall ascertain the actual relationship rather than focusing solely on the obligations as required by the contract itself. The plaintiff, a cyclist who was injured in a collision with a contractor that had the defendants’ name of Vabu visible during the accident brought to light the problem regarding the view that employers of independent contractors are not vicariously liable. The high court case thus attempted to clarify the issues respective of what a relationship entails with respect to employers and vicarious liability. As said, “[t]he system which was operated thereunder and the work practices imposed by  Vabu  go to establishing ‘the totality of the relationship’ between the parties; it is this which is to be considered.”[16] Similarly, in Deatons Pty Ltd v Flew, during an altercation at a hotel, the plaintiff was struck in the face with a glass of beer that the barmaid threw following his abuse toward her during an intoxicated scene.[17] As stated, “[a]n employer is liable for the act of his servant only if the act is shown to come within the scope of the servant’s authority either as being an act which he was employed actually to perform or as being an act which was incidental to this employment.”[18] The case of Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society LTD v Producers and Citizens Co-Operative Assurance Co of Australia[19] was mentioned by Justice Kirby in light of the fact that the employer was vicariously liable for the negligence of the independent contractor since the latter was a representative or agent of the employer since he was wearing the uniform.[20] Whilst the absence of a clear distinction that defines the differences between an employee and an independent contractor clearly arouses complications, Justice Bromberg in On Call Interpreters and Translators Agency Pty Ltd v the Commissioner of Taxation[21] discussed the ‘totality approach’ that examines the question, stating;

“Viewed as a “practical matter”:

(i) is the person performing the work an entrepreneur who owns and operates a business; and,
(ii) in performing the work, is that person working in and for that person’s business as a representative of that business and not of the business receiving the work?

If the answer to that question is yes, in the performance of that particular work, the person is likely to be an independent contractor. If no, then the person is likely to be an employee.”[22]

The ‘entrepreneur test’ viewed in a practical manner purports that an independent contractor as a representative can be considered an employee.[23] As mentioned by Justice Kirby in Northern Sandblasting Pty Ltd v Harris, several areas still remain unclear and further analysis on focal points such as non-delegable duty, the retreat from the control test and the increasing use of independent contractors due to changing social conditions requires more coherency.[24] Nevertheless, an independent contractor is advancing the interests of the employer and therefore can be considered representative of the employee and liable accordingly. Thus, attempting to ascertain whether an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent behaviour of independent contractors requires the analysis of the totality of indicators as part of a weighting process, considering whether there are clear benefits for the employer, whether the independent contractor is a representative of the entrepreneur, the terms of the contract ect. &c., until a formulation of the relationship can be ascertained. As was clarified in Sweeney V Boylan Nominees, “Mr. Comninos was not required to accept jobs from Boylan, did not wear a Boylan uniform, was not based on a Boylan premises and invoiced Boylan for the hours of work he performed.”[25]

Liability does not necessarily require geographical or time-related specificity, for instance at the location of the employment or during working hours. In South Pacific Resort Hotels Pty Ltd v Trainor[26], Ms. Trainor was employed at a hotel in Norfolk Island and consequently had a part of the building arranged for the optional living quarters of employees. She had experienced sexual harassment from a fellow employee at the premises whilst both were off-duty and the court nonetheless found the employer vicariously liable since the premises itself was built for the purpose of their employment and the conditions and environment of the building therein allowed for the conduct to occur. “It [vicarious liability] is not premised on any culpable act or omission on the part of the employer; an employer who is not at personal fault is made legally answerable for the fault of his employee. It is best understood as a loss-distribution device.”[27] Exploring the concept of vicarious liability under both Federal and Victorian anti-discrimination legislation, employers can be responsible for the acts made by employees including management, agencies, contract workers among others as long as it is in connection with a person’ employment and does not necessarily require being on or within a specific locale or premises of the employer or within working hours. In Leslie v Graham,[28] Ms. Leslie was subjected to sexual harassment by Mr. [Lincoln] Graham at an apartment outside of working hours and following the situation she was unfairly dismissed by her employer Roger Graham and Associates – with Roger Graham being the father of Mr. Lincoln Graham. The line that separates an employer from the conduct and behaviour of employees or contractors clearly becomes obscured vis-à-vis sexual harassment cases. “Vicarious liability can more readily arise for trespassory torts such as sexual assault, based on a close connection between the employment and the tortious act in question.”[33] Confusion is further amplified when attempting to ascertain the vicarious liability of employers outside of working hours. In the Sex Discrimination Act 1999 (Cth)[34] whereby vicarious liability does not apply when it is established that an employee or agent of a person, “took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee or agent from doing acts of the kind referred to in that paragraph”[35].

The employers’ responsibility vis-à-vis vicarious liability is not solely a matter of where failure itself had occurred, but rather whether the employer had taken reasonable steps to ensure that attempts were made to practicably prevent breaches from occurring. In R v Commercial Industrial Construction Group Pty Ltd[37] CICG had breached health and safety regulations by failing to provide a working environment for its employees that was safe following Peter Bacon – site manager – who had asked labourers to perform unsafe duties that resulted in an accident. As part of the plea mitigation, CICG stated that they had taken all the necessary steps to ensure that a safe working environment had been enforced, thus it was Peter Bacon as a supervisor who failed to comply Job Safety Analysis (JSA) requirements. This was rejected in court, whereby, “[w]hen the employee in question is the person with supervisory responsibilities, including responsibility for ensuring safety at the site, the gravity of the company’s breach is increased, not reduced. It is difficult to understand how the company could have allowed someone with Bacon’s apparent indifference to risk to occupy such as position.”[38] It was concluded that it had not been the case for CICG by employing a site supervisor who failed to adhere to health and safety obligations and consequently behaved negligently. Similaraly, in Gama v Qantas Airways Ltd,[29] Mr. Gama was employed as a licensed aircraft mechanical engineer and who was subjected to racial slurs by co-workers in the presence of supervisors, the latter failing to take reasonable steps to stop the racist behaviour. On the contrary, Mr. Gama was further subjected to discrimination particularly related to his reporting requirements and any opportunity for promotion due to alleged systemic racial intolerance[30] in addition to injuries he sustained during the course of his employment that resulted in less favourable treatment. As a consequence, Qantas was found to be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)[31] and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), namely that it is “unlawful for an employer or a person acting or purporting to act on behalf of an employer to discriminate against an employee on the ground of the employee’s disability, [d] by subjecting the employee to any other detriment,”[32] and as such vicariously liable particularly for the treatment he received by co-workers in the presence of supervisors.

Vicarious liability is not necessarily about whether an employer authorises tortious acts but rather about whether they are responsible for acts of negligence made by an agent they have employed and as such it is a requirement to ensure that legislation remains broad. Perhaps it is ambiguous to ensure that judges approach the subject on a case-by-case basis by examining the details regarding the nature of the employment. “Vicarious liability is the creation of many judges who have had different ideas of its justification or social policy, or no idea at all. Some judges may have extended the rule more widely, or confined it more narrowly than its true rationale would allow; yet the rationale, if we can discover it, will remain valid so far as it extends.”[39] It is nevertheless commonsensical to assume that should an employee engage in conduct that is deemed offensive outside of the contractual obligations as required by the employer – or “engage on a frolic of his (or her) own”[40] – then the employer cannot be held vicariously liable for such conduct. But should an employer see and fail to do anything about acts of negligence or harassment, then they are absolutely liable.

Comparatively, the legislative and common law processes that we have in place in Australia is certainly commendable when viewing the injustice of the legal systems in other nation-states around the world. It does not, however, change the fact that many employees unfortunately experience discriminate behaviour for personal attributes and ultimately such employers go unpunished.

Also see:

Scott v Davis (2000) 204 CLR 333
Launchbury v Morgans [1972] UKHL 5; [1973] AC 127 at 135.
Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Co Pty Ltd [1986] HCA 1; (1986) 160 CLR 16 at 29.

 

 

[1] Part 2, §7 Equal Opportunity Act 2010
[2] Part 2, §8-9 Equal Opportunity Act 2010
[3] Part 2, §6 Equal Opportunity Act 2010, “(a) age; (b) breastfeeding; (c) employment activity; (d) gender identity; (e) disability; (f) industrial activity; (g) lawful sexual activity; (h) marital status; (i) parental status or status as a carer; (j) physical features; (k) political belief or activity; (l) pregnancy; (m) race; (n) religious belief or activity; (o) sex; (p) sexual orientation; (q) personal association (whether as a relative or otherwise) with a person who is identified by reference to any of the above attributes.”
[4] §12 Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)
[5] §6A Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), §10 Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), §13 Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)
[6] §5(3) Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)
[7] §109 Equal Opportunity Act 2010
[8] §92 Equal Opportunity Act 2010
[9] §110 Equal Opportunity Act 2010
[10] Fleming, Law of Torts, 410
[11] Scott v Davis (2000) 204 CLR 333, 4; also see Launchbury v Morgans [1972] UKHL 5; [1973] AC 127 at 135 and International Harvester Co of Australia Pty Ltd v Carrigan’s Hazeldene Pastoral Co.(1958) 100 CLR 644, 652.
[12] Sweeney v Boylan Nominees Pty Ltd. (2006) 227 ALR 46; [2006] HCA 19.
[13] Quarman v Burnett (1840) 151 ER 509
[14] Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Company Pty Ltd 1 TLR 101 at 111
[15] Hollis v Vabu (2001) 207 CLR 21
[16] Ibid,. Also see Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Co Pty Ltd [1986] HCA 1; (1986) 160 CLR 16 at 29.
[17] Deatons Pty Ltd v Flew [1949] HCA 60; (1949) 79 CLR 370 (12 December 1949) 2
[18] Ibid., 5
[19] Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society LTD v Producers and Citizens Co-Operative Assurance Co of Australia (1931) 46 CLR 41
[20] Ibid.
[21] On Call Interpreters and Translators Agency Pty Ltd v the Commissioner of Taxation (No 3) [2011] FCA 366.
[22] Ibid., 208
[23] Northern Sandblasting Pty Ltd v Harris [1997] HCA 39; (1997) 188 CLR 313; (1997) 146 ALR 572; (1997) 71 ALJR 1428 (14 August 1997)
[24] Ibid.
[25] Burnett, Jonathan — “Avoiding Difficult Questions: Vicarious Liability and Independent Contractors in Sweeney v Boylan Nominees” [2007] SydLawRw 5; (2007) 29(1) Sydney Law Review 163
[26] [2005] FCAFC 130
[27] Barbara Harvey, John Marston, Cases and Commentary on Tort, Oxford University Press (2009) 572
[28] Leslie v Graham [2002] FCA,
[29] Gama v Qantas Airways Ltd (No 2) [2006] FMCA
[30] Christine Fougere, ‘Vicarious liability for race and disability discrimination in the workplace’, Law Society Journal, April (2007) 37
[31] §9 Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)
[32] §15(2)(d) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992
[33] Rick Glofcheski, ‘A Frolic in the Law of Tort: Expanding the Scope of Employers’ Vicarious Liability’ (2004) 12 Tort Law Review 18, 1
[34] §106 Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
[35] §106 (2) Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
[36] Brook Hely, “Open all hours: The Reach of Vicarious Liability in ‘off-duty’ sexual harrassment complaints.”
[37] R v Commercial Industrial Construction Group Pty Ltd [2006] VSCA 181
[38] Ibid., 43
[39] Glanville Williams, Vicarious Liability and the Master’s Indemnity, The Modern Law Review, 20:3, 220–235 (1957)
[40] Morris v C W Martin & Sons Ltd [1966] 1 QB 716, 733–4 (Diplock LJ), discussed in NSW v Lepore [2003] HCA 4; (2003) 212 CLR 511, 535–6 [40]–[41] (Gleeson CJ), 614 [308] (Kirby J).