Young gun leads the fight to reform outdated criminal convictions
A finalist in the upcoming 30 Under 30 is helping pave the way for reforms to be passed through Queensland Parliament which aim to decriminalise historic criminal convictions for engaging in consensual homosexual activity.
Emile McPhee of McCullough Robertson has been named a finalist in the pro bono category at Lawyers Weekly’s 30 Under 30, to be held later this month.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly on what makes him stand out from his competitors, Mr McPhee shared his recent work as volunteer executive director of the LGBTI Legal Service, where he worked with Queensland’s Attorney-General and the Queensland Law Reform Commission to fight for legislation to be introduced that will expunge criminal convictions for consensual homosexual activity.
“In Queensland and around Australia consensual homosexual activity was illegal until the 1990s, so up until then a lot of people have been charged or have convictions for consensual sexual activity so what this reform really aims to do is fully wipe those from the record,” Mr McPhee explained.
“From 1990 there weren’t convictions for these, but there were still existing convictions on the record. In Queensland, there’s a convictions regime allowing people not to disclose certain convictions but there are a few exclusions to that regime, so in some circumstances people still do need to disclose them.
“Essentially we’ve been working on the reforms for about three years, starting with a discussion paper that we put to the government that then went to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. Finally, last year the government put forward or said that they would introduce legislation, giving effect to the scheme and earlier in May they introduced the bill to Parliament. It’s currently being referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee, which reviews all of these sorts of bills, and then in July it should go back before Parliament for a second reading.”
Mr McPhee said the introduction of these reforms is simply Queensland catching up to other jurisdictions, who have already passed such legislation.
“It follows what’s happened or what’s happening in a number of other jurisdictions. NSW and Victoria both have it and it’s been used, and South Australia has a similar thing and ACT does as well. It’s on the books for Tasmania, and I think WA and NT are a bit behind,” he said.
“It’s a good reform for Queensland and something that will finally, once and for all, address those historical, discriminatory laws.”
Mr McPhee noted that while the Queensland government has focused on a lot of issues in regards to the LGBTI community, these reforms will help ensure that any outdated laws are null and void.
“This government in Queensland has done a number of really good things in the LGBTI space. Up until recently, same-sex couples couldn’t adopt in Queensland. There were issues and reforms back and forth in relation to civil partnerships, and whether or not you could have a civil ceremony,” he said.
“In Queensland there was still the gay panic defence, or the homosexual advance defence. The age of consent for anal intercourse was still higher than it was for any other kind, so they’ve done a lot of great things in removing all of these discriminatory provisions, and this is just another thing in the process.”
On being named a finalist in upcoming 30 Under 30, Mr McPhee said to be recognised for his pro bono work is both exciting and humbling.
“I’ve always had a passion for pro bono and access to justice. It’s something that I think can often go a bit unrecognised, and it’s a lot of work on top of the day-to-day jobs, so to get recognition for it is pretty touching,” he said.
As a final note, Mr McPhee encouraged others to get more involved in this line of work, saying the benefits both professionally and personally are rewarding.
“I think it’s important to send the message that it’s incredibly rewarding work no matter what area of pro bono or access to justice you get involved in,” he said.
“Whether it’s participating in free legal clinics, giving advice on a pro bono basis or just getting involved in community organisations in your area, the rewards are substantial.
“There are organisations around that could use the assistance and if you put your name out there, put yourself forward a bit, then you’ll have a lot of people snapping you up and giving yourself a chance to get involved and have a good time.”
To learn more about the 30 Under 30, click here.
Lawyers Weekly has also announced that submissions are now open for the Australian Law Awards.
Now in its 17th year, the Australian Law Awards are the premier legal event of the year, recognising the full spectrum of the profession.
To learn more about the event, click here.