MAINTAINING STRONG connections with foreign jurisdictions will continue to be an important part of the Law Council of Australia’s (LCA) brief in 2007, with efforts to ease practising restrictions for Australian lawyers overseas.
In the past six months, LCA president Tim Bugg has travelled to the US, Malaysia, India and China, countries in which “the provision of legal services by foreign lawyers is considered to be really important,” he said.
The LCA, in conjunction with the Federal Attorney-General’s office and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, hopes to replicate the way foreign lawyers are regulated in the Australian market for Australian lawyers overseas.
“We have a very open market, so that a lawyer from overseas, who has a practising certificate from his or her home country, can come here and practise his or her home country’s law, can engage in partnership with Australian lawyers and employ Australian lawyers,” Bugg said. “What we are seeking to achieve is the sort of market regulation we allow in Australia to foreign lawyers to come here.”
Late in 2006, Bugg led a delegation to California, New York, Delaware and Georgia to try and “improve the access Australian lawyers have in those states, so that practising rights are liberalised for Australian lawyers and their qualifications are recognised,” he said. “It was a discussion also about the recognition of Australian law degrees.”
This followed a trip in July 2006 with former LCA president John North, to discuss practising issues at the conference of chief justices of the Supreme Court of the US.
“We’ve had a very receptive response,” Bugg said. “And I’m hoping that in late March this year, we’ll have representatives of the profession and judiciary in those states come to Australia for further discussions.”
The LCA’s working relationship with a number of government departments and agencies is also one of a few ways it can attract government funding.
A recent application was made through AusAID — the federal government’s overseas aid program — to establish a program for leaders of the bars in South Pacific countries Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Bugg said the LCA has “a very close relationship with many of the bars in those countries. And of course, at the moment, rule of law and constitutional issues are pretty important in some of those countries”.
The program is one way the LCA “can assist those organisations across a range of areas, such as regulation of lawyers and rule of law issues”. If the funding application is approved later in the year, South Pacific legal representatives will be brought to Australia to attend the program.
The LCA also receives sponsorship for events such as the Australian Legal Convention, this year supported by the Attorney-General’s department in Canberra. But the vast majority of the money it relies upon comes from its members — the country’s law societies and bars.
And according to Bugg, there has been no indication that event or program specific funding from the Government would be withheld in the future if the LCA continued speaking openly about political matters, such as it has done over the Government’s handling of David Hicks’ case.
“We have a very strong relationship with a number of government departments, and that relationship has in no way been affected, detrimentally, by debate we might have with their political masters,” he said.
“The most obvious example of that, of course, is the [Hicks] issue, which has brought us into conflict with [Attorney-General Philip Ruddock], other Ministers, and the Government generally,” he said. “But that has in no way impacted on our relationship with government departments and agencies.”