Two weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at the Queensland Law Society Awards Night. The night recognised the most recent graduates of the College of Law program; students who are about to be admitted as legal professionals. In my speech, I tried to emphasise that law graduates are extremely lucky and privileged to embark upon a career which can be full of personal reward. The opportunities are endless and your career is whatever you choose to make it. Queensland’s Chief Magistrate, His Honour Judge Rinaudo also spoke about tips he wished he had known during his career as a solicitor.
In my view, if you want to achieve a truly rewarding career in the law, you will only find this through a broader involvement in the law. A focus on the job of individual cases as an employee of a private firm or a government department will only take you so far. It is important for young lawyers to keep in mind a broader conception of their profession.
Young people occupy a vulnerable place in our society. They are still undergoing important brain development, and both behavioural psychology and neuroscience attest that adolescents are less able to control their impulses, plan ahead, and weigh the consequences of their decisions before acting.
Last week the LNP Government passed amendments to the Youth Justice Act. These amendments represent significant changes to the way in which the courts and our community treat children. Among the reforms include the removal of imprisonment as a last resort and secondly, the removal of prohibitions on the publication of child offenders (a green light for “naming and shaming” kids).
Last night, I participated in a discussion on Triple J’s Hack program where the Premier, Campbell Newman and I shared our views on these drastic changes to youth justice. For a link to the podcast of the program, click here.
Yesterday’s comments by Premier Campbell Newman represent a dangerous and unprecedented attack upon hard working members of the legal profession. Newman suggests that lawyers are part of the bikies “criminal gang machine”. In saying this, he suggests that solicitors facilitate the commission of criminal offences.
As a solicitor of this State, I find these comments deeply disturbing. They strike at the very heart of the profession’s reputation and trust among the community. Both the President of the Queensland Law Socety and the Queensland Bar Association responded publicly and quickly. This was very good to see given that a failure to publicly respond to such serious allegations would potentially, leave those in the community believing that there is some truth to these ridiculous claims. The reality is that lawyers are subject to onerous ethical obligations owed to the court. Lawyers are officers of the court.
Last Tuesday, the LNP Government passed laws which, in effect, mean that all persons convicted of drug trafficking, must serve 80% of their head sentence. In reality, this will mean a period of actual custody of at least 2 years if a person is given a sentence with a parole relase date.
For my response, see Triple J’s podcast from last Wednesday, 7 July.
All trafficking is serious. However, what the AG does not realise is that this law will catch the big guys as well as the low level street dealers including young kids selling a few pills to their mates before a festival.
A Chief Justice, or for that matter any Judge, should be very careful in engaging in law reform. It strikes at the heart of our constitution; the separation of powers. However, last week in a calculated and dangerous way the Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, in his presentation to the Queensland Law Society Symposium on Friday, 15 March 2013, suggested a number of criminal law reforms including:
1. Allowing for criminal histories to be made available to juries;
2. Allowing Judges to explain the concept of reasonable doubt; and
3. Requiring Defence Counsel to disclose their case prior to commencement of a trial.