I have the honour to be the President of the Law Society for 2018. The Society has many important roles, some of which are regulatory but many of which involve representing the interests of the legal profession. In addition, the Society is an important advocate for the legal rights of members of the public generally.
We are lucky to live in a country with a legal system that sets out to provide all its citizens equal rights under the law. However, we must be vigilant to protect the operation of the rule of law and the integrity and independence of the justice system.
The Society’s Top 10 Election Policy Issues document for the South Australian State election on 17 March includes over 50 “Key Asks” of our politicians. Most of the issues have been the subject of long-term advocacy by the Society. We will maintain a focus on all of them this year. As we do so, we will strive for a balanced and constructive relationship with all sides of politics, particularly with the Attorney-General, Shadow Attorney-General and key Ministers and Shadow Ministers.
The broad themes I am particularly interested in and will agitate this year include:
Reducing regulation on lawyers and small businesses
Lawyers are very heavily regulated. Some of this regulation is not warranted. The Society is identifying areas of regulation that could be removed or reduced without affecting the service and protection afforded to clients. Unnecessary regulation results in higher costs for clients, when instead we should be looking at improving access to legal services.
Legal firms are important small businesses. We would like the Government to reduce regulation and costs imposed on businesses.
Other occupations are encroaching on work that is the preserve of lawyers. Documents that people rely upon at key times in their lives should be prepared by those qualified to give legal advice. Many other occupations do not have the regulatory stringency or insurance cover required of lawyers. We want to ensure lawyers are not disadvantaged in this regard and that non-lawyers who breach the law by undertaking legal work are held to account.
Additional funding for the justice system
The legal system in South Australia receives inadequate funding. An efficient and accessible legal system is a basic right and expectation of our community. The Society will continue to agitate for the State to commit to properly resourcing and funding the justice system. This includes, funding for the operation of the courts, a new courts precinct, a proper level of legal aid payments to lawyers, appropriate resourcing of regional legal services and Community Legal Centres, and for legal aid to be available to members of the public, in appropriate cases, for civil matters, rather than just serious criminal matters and family matters involving children.
Respect for the Rule of Law
It is important that members of our community understand the robust operation of the rule of law, and the implications of attempts to erode it. We need to protect our justice system and an independent judiciary. Our community is strengthened when people appreciate that the preservation of the rule of law is integral to a fair, just and free society. Protecting the justice system includes resisting legislation that offends basic common law principles or removes rights. For example, an understandable, but misguided response to a particularly alarming crime is often to put an additional and complicating layer onto an already adequate system.
I have been a Member of the Society’s Aboriginal Issues Committee for many years and have worked extensively with indigenous people and their representatives, particularly in the area of native title. I am dismayed at number of young indigenous people entering our gaols. This should be a massive concern for our community. It is simply unacceptable. We must work to address the root causes for the offending. This must start from a position of understanding and respect for indigenous culture and its place in our history. The availability of interpreters for those involved in matters before the courts who need them is one issue we will be agitating this year.
Relevance to Members
The Society carries out a diverse range of responsibilities and delivers incredibly varied services. The work, interests and needs of Members are also diverse. I am keen to demonstrate to Members that the Society is responsive to their needs. I’m keen to hear the views and suggestions of Members, and also plan to publicise the large variety of benefits which are made available by the Society to its Members. In my view, every lawyer should belong to their professional association. I am keen to enliven the pride of belonging to and participating in the legal profession that was apparent in the past.
I look forward to working for and with Members.