THE NSW Law Society is gearing up to promote issues of concern to lawyers in an effort to shape the result of the upcoming State election.
Speaking at the Law Term dinner last week, Law Society president Geoff Dunlevy made it plain that he seeks to engage both government and the media to promote the views of lawyers and temper debate of legal issues.
“The Law Society has a professional and public responsibility to use the knowledge and experience of its members in the interests of promoting public debate around legal issues and reforming legal processes to achieve greater justice and fairness,” Dunlevy said.
Lawyers in general — and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) more specifically — were criticised last year by Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock for unnecessarily straying into political debate.
Speaking at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association, Ruddock said that although every citizen has the right to contribute to “the political conversation that shapes our nation’s laws”, this should be made in the individual’s personal capacity only.
“Such contributions must be made by lawyers in a personal capacity not a professional one. Our professional bodies have helped to blur this distinction,” he said in November 2006.
As Lawyers Weekly reported, LCA president Tim Bugg immediately replied with the message that the nation’s chief law body was duty-bound to comment on all issues that involved principles of law. And now Dunlevy has offered the same message to the NSW Government.
“As guardians of civil and political rights of the community and of the rule of law, we have a duty to remind governments of the values that underpin a civil society and of the dangers associated with intrusive laws that attack our rights and freedoms,” he said.
Expecting law and order to be one battleground during the campaign trail, the Law Society president pledged to bring sanity back into the debate.
“The Law Society will take a leading role in monitoring the law and order debate during the election campaign, to inject an independent voice of reason,” Dunlevy said.
“The criminal justice debate should be rational and responsible. Issues relating to access to justice, recognition of the importance of the independence of the judiciary and the primacy of the rule of law must be at the heart of this debate.
“These issues are far too important to be sidelined or even sacrificed for the sake of political expediency.”
Giving a preview of the Law Society’s “election policy statement”, to be released later in the month, Dunlevy highlighted reform of tort law and the structure of the LCA as major issues for public discussion. In fact, he predicted that “the first quarter of the year will be one of great activity for the Law Society with a heavy public policy focus”.
In aid of the continuing struggle to form a truly national profession, Dunlevy said the future structure of the LCA should incorporate the wishes of the Major Law Firm Group.
And although Law Institute of Victoria president Geoff Provis told Lawyers Weekly last month that he predicted state and territory bodies will one day be absorbed by a national body and become “state chapters”, Dunlevy foresaw a strong, ongoing membership for the Law Society.
“We will continue to be a member-focused professional association that positions itself as the premier law and law reform lobbyist in NSW,” he said.