Governments in Australia wouldn’t get far having “no truck” with lawyers, say legal member associations responding to the Prime Minister’s comments about the profession from earlier this week.
On Tuesday, 10 May 2022, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by his recent comments about the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) as a “kangaroo court” and then launched an attack on the nation’s legal profession.
“I don’t care if barristers and lawyers and others up there in Macquarie Street – not in the Parliament but in the barristers’ chambers – disagree with me,” Mr Morrison proclaimed.
“They disagree with me all the time. I’ve never had much truck with them over the course of my entire political career.”
As reported, the Australian Bar Association immediately rebuked the PM, noting its “deep concern” about the remarks.
“Any person who has no truck with barristers cannot have made a conscientious effort to understand their indispensable contribution to civic society,” ABA president Dr Matt Collins argued.
Now, the Law Society of NSW and Australian Women Lawyers have responded to the PM’s comments.
As reported earlier today (Thursday, 12 May) by Lawyers Weekly – in a story outlining AWL’s pre- and post-election priorities for the profession – president Leah Marrone said that the association “fully supports” the ABA’s comments in defending barristers and ICAC.
Ms Marrone labelled Mr Morrison’s comments about the legal profession and ICAC as “disparaging”.
“It is entirely inappropriate for the Prime Minister to undermine our profession and judiciary in this way,” she said.
Law Society of NSW president Joanne van der Plaat added that the nation’s most populous state has over 4,000 registered solicitors working for the federal and state governments alone – a number that represents only those who have current practising certificates and does not include many lawyers exercising their skills for the Commonwealth.
“The Commonwealth’s lawyers advise on policy that can affect the entire Australian population, prosecute Commonwealth criminal cases, serve in royal commissions, negotiate free trade agreements, advise on the legality of military operations and perhaps most significantly, draft government legislation – which usually becomes the laws by which we as a nation are governed,” she outlined.
“Every Prime Minister, every government, relies on lawyers to ensure they act within their constitutional bounds. To have ‘no truck’ with lawyers would make government unworkable.”
Ms van der Plaat expressed her support for the ABA, noting that the PM’s comments about barristers “are applicable equally” to the solicitors in the legal profession as well.
“Every NSW lawyer is bound by an oath to make their paramount duty to the court and the administration of justice as well as an ethical code entrenched in legislation. Across Australia, lawyers recognise their duty to the community and the most vulnerable, contributing last financial year alone, 640,000 hours of pro bono legal work,” she advised.
“The Law Society also considers that integrity agencies such as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption are important tools to keep governments, their agencies and employees acting in the public interest.
“Therefore, we welcome the announcement by the NSW Premier of a new funding model for the state’s integrity agencies and look forward to examining the proposed model in detail.”
Ms van der Plaat’s comments echo those of Dr Collins, who noted that Australia has over 6,000 hardworking barristers who are committed to promoting the administration of justice.
“They abide by a cab rank rule, which requires them to accept briefs within their area of expertise and ensures that all Australians have an entitlement to representation. Every year, they provide countless hours of pro bono and poorly remunerated assistance to people from Australia’s most disadvantaged communities,” Dr Collins submitted.
“They frequently stand between the individual and the state, and provide a bulwark for the rule of law.”
Dr Collins also said it is “neither correct nor constructive” to describe the NSW model as a “kangaroo court”.
“A kangaroo court is a body that operates with disregard for or perversion of legal procedure. The ICAC commissioners are highly experienced and respected jurists who preside over investigations conducted according to law and the powers given to them by the NSW Parliament,” he outlined.
As previously reported by Lawyers Weekly, the need for a federal ICAC is something that lawyers are keen to see and deem an issue that may impact their vote at next weekend’s federal election. You can read that reporting here and here.