WHILE THE Federal Attorney-General believes the states and territories have taken too long to agree on laws to facilitate a national profession, two state-based observers were more optimistic about the progress made.
But there was no argument among those who spoke at the Law Reform Summit in Sydney last week that the national profession project was an overdue reform, despite the different reasons given for the delay.
To Laurie Glanfield, director-general of the NSW Attorney-General’s Department, the project represents a “mammoth undertaking” consisting of the “outstanding efforts of all those who have contributed”.
Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Kerry Shine, said “any reasonable person can appreciate that developing these important reforms to a stage where it has the agreement of all states and territories, the Commonwealth and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) — representing all its constituent bodies — has been a difficult and complex task”.
But according to Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, efforts to bring about model laws have only been a “qualified success”, with “the process [taking] far longer than was originally planned, with only five jurisdictions having commenced their legislation since the model laws were agreed to in 2004”.
Ruddock pointed to differences in numbering systems for legislation as an example of state and territory governments dragging their feet on issues of harmonisation.
“For example, if I wanted to know the meaning of ‘unprofessional conduct’, I would look in section 496 of the NSW Act or section 386 of the ACT Act, or section 245 of the Queensland Act, or section 4.4.2 of the Victorian Act,” Ruddock said. “It’s hard to imagine why this should be so important, but the various parliamentary counsels have apparently refused to budge.
“In the end, I believe that state and territory governments must recognise that the citizens of their state or territory are best served through up-to-date legal regimes and the social institutions that serve our national interest,” Ruddock said. “It’s simply better for business because it reduces red tape; it’s better for the economy; and it’s better for individuals.”
In NSW, Glanfield said that “despite what some commentators may have implied recently, establishing a national regulatory regime is no simple matter. The national legal profession project has been a major undertaking, and we should not underestimate its size and complexity.”
Glanfield also pointed to the harmonisation challenges inherent in the nation’s federal system of government.
“The practical reality is that parliaments will simply not enact a Model Bill without considering whether it is suitable to local conditions,” he said “For some, this is a weakness of federalism, for others, it’s a strength. Either way it is a process that occurs with every national uniform legislative project.”
Shine said he remains focused on securing the passage of the Legal Profession Bill by 1 July 2007, which he is confident will “attract the unanimous support of the Queensland Parliament to ensure the continuing growth of the profession as well as the growing diversity we are seeing within the profession”.
“Thus far I am pleased to note from the feedback I’ve received that the Queensland profession has responded well to these reforms,” he added.
Other states lagging behind include Western Australia and South Australia.
After the WA Government enacted the Legal Practice Act in 2003, it has been followed by the first and second edition of the Model Bill, in June 2004 and August 2006 respectively.
In January this year the Law Society of South Australia responded to the draft Legal Profession Bill 2006(SA).