LAW COUNCIL of Australia (LCA) president Tim Bugg used his speech at the Australian Legal Convention on Sunday to take Government to task over its human rights record and approach to law reform.
Just as the legal profession must be “prepared to raise its voice fearlessly in the interests of both individuals and the institutions of justice”, Bugg raised his own on the subject of David Hicks, anti-terror laws, indigenous legal issues, tort law reform, client legal privilege, and diminishing legislative standards.
And marking a significant step in the history of the LCA, Bugg announced the inclusion of the Large Law Firm Group (LLFG) and the Tasmanian Independent Bar as new constituent members.
Bugg began his speech by roundly criticising the Federal Government for its failure to preserve the rule of law as it applies to Hicks’ indefinite detention.
“For the [LCA], the David Hicks case has never been about spin or public relations wars. It has always been about very clear principles — principles that form the very foundations of our democracy,” he said.
Bugg also chastised the Federal Government for its delay in responding to the LCA’s 2005 open letter on the then-proposed anti-terror laws.
“The [LCA] will continue to argue that governments must leaven their anti-terror measures with due observance of certain irreducible rights that Australian citizens have enjoyed for many years,” he said.
Addressing Aboriginal deaths in custody, the use of customary law and indigenous land rights, Bugg said there has been an increasing need for the LCA to urge every government to remedy perceived deficiencies in the system.
“Changes to laws affecting Aboriginal people should be primarily community driven and made in partnership and consultation with individual communities, no matter how difficult that process may be.”
Bugg also commented on harsh, knee-jerk tort law reforms that have taken away the rights of injured people at the expense of insurance company profits. While a balance must be struck between compensation entitlements and the capacity to pay, “that balance has tilted too far in favour of liability insurers which are now reaping an embarrassing level of investment returns from an unconscionable legislative framework”.
Increasing attacks on client legal privilege are something the LCA is keen to defend, although Bugg expressed his happiness over the referral of the matter to the Australian Law Reform Commission for a proper enquiry.
This led the LCA president into a discussion of the reduction in legislative standards “characterised by populism, knee-jerk legislative reactions to complex issues and derisory consultation processes”.
He described parliamentary committee reports as often “shallow and ragged”, which “probably reflects the reality of political life, but poor report standards also allow parliamentarians to avoid their responsibility to confront criticisms and to engage critics”.
“Parliaments and their procedures are among the institutions that are as much in need of reform and regular review as the institutions, agencies and other bodies, including the courts, so routinely targeted by them,” he said.
But after criticising failures of government, Bugg had much to say on the progress made on the national profession project, along with the announcement of Saturday’s agreement by LCA directors to include the large law firm group on its table.
“The admission of the [LLFG] embraces the changed environment of the profession. It will ensure the long-term wellbeing of both the [LCA] and its other constituent bodies,” he said. “The admission of the Tasmanian Independent Bar completes the set in the sense that now every law society and bar association has taken membership of the national body.
“We took a giant step forward [on Saturday] and the [LCA] can look forward to the future with renewed confidence about the health of the profession and about its local, national and international representation.”