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Legal Services Commissioner's resignation sparks change debate

Legal Services Commissioner's resignation sparks change debate

Is it time to make the regulation of complaints even more simple? Debate ignited by resignation.

The inaugural legal services commissioner and CEO of the Legal Services Board for Victoria has resigned after nearly four years in the role.  

Victoria Marles announced her resignation today, and will officially leave the post on October 23, to take up the position of CEO at Trust for Nature, an independent, not-for-profit organisation, which protects and conserves native bush land in Victoria. 

Deputy premier and attorney-general, Rob Hulls, said Marles leaves her position after having effectively established the Legal Services Commission and Legal Services Board, the peak regulatory body for Victoria's legal profession. 

He said amongst other significant achievements, Marles appointment as Legal Services Commissioner replaced an old cumbersome system with a new single gateway for all complaints about the legal profession. 

"The establishment of the Legal Services Commissioner and the Legal Services Board are key parts of the Brumby Labor Government's reforms to the regulation of the profession and getting the foundations right was critical," Hulls said.

Prior to Marles appointment, Kate Hamond acted as legal ombudsman in Victoria, overseeing legal industry complaints. 

Known to be an independent "public protector", Hamond, a former primary school teacher, often clashed with the Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar when handling complaints against lawyers.

The relationship between Hamond and the lawyers' groups became bitter and was described as "poisonous" by Hulls, who abolished the ombudsman's office and replaced it with a legal services commissioner, a position taken up Marles in 2005. 

The Law Institute of Victoria CEO, Michael Brett Young, said they had a good working relationship with her and found her very consultative and approachable.

"But despite the Government's aims of making the complaints and regulatory system simpler, we have ended up with a more bureaucratic system" Brett Young said.

"The Legal Profession Act is one of the most dense and proscriptive pieces of legislation around, I think legal professionals and clients of law services would both appreciate a more streamlined system." 

He added: "With the resignation of the Legal Services Commissioner Victoria, the State Government should take the opportunity to reduce the regulatory burden on Victoria's legal professionals." 

Prior to her appointment Marles had been deputy ombudsman of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and previous to this she was deputy director of the Communications Law Centre, and has been a consumer representative on the TIO Board. She has worked as a lawyer in private practice, and was also a founding legal member of the Guardianship List of VCAT.

No new appointee has been announced following her departure. The Legal Services Commissioner vacancy will be advertised in The Age and The Australian tomorrow, 5 September and in The Australian Financial Review on 11 September, with a closing date of Friday, 2 October.

The LIV acknowledged that the new appointee would be important in developing a national model for the legal profession, for which draft legislation is now being drafted for COAG.

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