On the 8th of March of this year, I published a blog concerning the choices we make during our career, and that a rewarding career in the law only comes from pursuing broader objectives. In June of this year, the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference was held in Sydney, at which time a number of prominent solicitors and barristers spoke on the topic of ‘Disruptive and dynamic lawyers: the gatekeepers of justice’. These sorts of lawyers are commonly known as ‘social change lawyers’; they seek to push the boundaries of current law and policy in the pursuit of justice.
Fiona McLeod SC, President of the Australian Bar Association and Treasurer at the Law Council of Australia gave a particularly inspiring speech on the topic. See this link for a media article of it. Ms McLeod argued that it is imperative that lawyers work to expose the injustices occurring on our doorstep in Australia, and that lawyers have a duty to ‘be creative about how we solve problems using laws that exist, using processes that exist and exploring the edges of those.’
You may, in your career, encounter an individual who has been wronged where the expected outcome in the situation seems absurd. It is at that point that you should put yourself ‘out there’, ‘think outside the box’ and ‘make visible what is otherwise invisible’, as Ms McLeod phrased it.
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.
Ms Quentin Bryce is currently heading a State based taskforce into the responses to domestic violence. She is a remarkable woman committed to an important cause. Everyone would agree that domestic violence is a large and whole of community problem. However, as a legal representative for many respondents (or persons accused of domestic violence), I am acutely aware that the rights and liberties of individuals cannot be ignored as we tackle the problem of domestic violence. This week I presented at the Queensland Law Society on domestic violence laws. Below is a brief overview of the key points I sought to convey from the perspective of a criminal defence lawyer.
It is sometimes said, by practitioners, court support and police, that the making of a DV Order is no big deal as it is a civil order; rather than a criminal order. I don’t share this view. In RMR v Sinclair  QDC 204 at , His Honour Judge Deveraux SC remarked that; “[t]he making of a [Protection] order is a serious matter. Orders should not be made lightly. Breaches involve, as the learned Magistrate said, community as well as personal concerns.”
A DV Order can clearly impact upon a person’s civil liberties. For example, restricting them to go certain places, see certain people, including their children, and generally their whole living situation and home environment. These are all significant matters.
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.
On 19 March 2014, the Liberal Party introduced legislation to re-badge the Crime and Misconduct Commission as the Crime and Corruption Commission. The Bill is called the Crime and Misconduct and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014.
Under the proposed reforms in the Bill the government is seeking to focus the Commission’s work on more serious instances of corruption as opposed to misconduct. As a body designed to hold government to account, it is concerning that its oversight reach is being dramatically reduced. Misconduct, it seems, is no longer serious enough and only corruption is. Other changes concern the process for making a complaint.
In the Courier Mail of 19 March 2014 it was reported that Chief Magistrate Tim Carmody is lobbying the government to limit rights of appeal against decisions by Magistrates. Specifically, he wishes to remove the right of a person to appeal against a finding of fact by a Magistrate. Furthermore, he seeks to limit appeals to only serious questions of law.
The right to appeal is of fundamental importance in our criminal justice system. It is recognised in Queensland, Australia and internationally under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 14 of the ICCPR sets out the minimum fair trial garuantees. At Article 14(5), it states that:
“Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.”
This attack on appeal rights is concerning. The reality is that Magistrates are human beings and they, like any other individual, make mistakes in the exercise of their functions. Our government should not entertain the limitation of important fair trial rights which include the right to a proper appeal hearing.
It has been widely reported that Schapelle Corby will be paid between two and three million dollars for an exclusive interview with Channel Seven. This has outraged many in the community who hold the view that she should not be entitled to profit from her illegal activities. Similar complaints were made when David Hicks and Chopper Read published books. See this link for my public contribution to this debate.
“In the little world in which children have their existence… there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.” (Charles Dickens)
Today, the LNP government introduced into parliament the “Youth Justice and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014”. The Bill proposes significant changes to the way in which the courts and our community treat children. Among the proposed law 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). The Bill has been referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee for consideration.
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.
Under the Queensland Government’s anti-bikie laws, the Department of Corrective Services are directed to imprison members or associates of bike groups in particularly harsh and unprecedented ways. Some have described the conditions as being similar to Guantanamo Bay. Read more