THE LAW COUNCIL of Australia (LCA) will continue to take issue with matters deemed political by the Federal Attorney-General, despite the scathing critique the body received from Philip Ruddock earlier in the month.
As reported in Lawyers Weekly last Friday, LCA president Tim Bugg originally intended to give a speech on the national profession project at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association national conference, as he had been invited to do.
Yet Bugg was compelled to instead respond to the keynote address Ruddock had given an hour before, in which the Attorney-General rebuked the LCA for straying from its core responsibilities into areas of “fashionable” or “political” concern.
“For the nation’s peak professional body to have so little to say about the profession and so much to say about the politically fashionable issues du jour is surprising,” Ruddock said.
Yet it was Bugg who was surprised to hear of Ruddock’s criticism only moments before he was scheduled to speak. “There had been no warning to us that [Ruddock] was going to take that approach, and attack us in the way that he did,” he said.
“Because of the way he had chosen to raise the issue, I felt that I had no alternative but to respond at that forum, even though I didn’t consider it was necessarily the appropriate forum for me to do so,” Bugg said.
According to Bugg, Ruddock’s “comments in relation to the [LCA] getting into political areas reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what is political and what is really an issue of principle and law”.
In his address, Ruddock made mention of the eight media releases the LCA has issued this year in relation to David Hicks, as part of a range of issues he considered either “fashionable” or “political”. Twenty-four of twenty-eight releases “entered the political fray on topics of contention”, Ruddock said.
“The role of the Law Council is to do that,” Bugg said. “Lawyers of Australia would want us to do that, and do want us to do it, and we will continue to do so.
“So in addition to him being wrong about this topic as being one that is either ‘political’ or ‘fashionable’, he is also wrong about the interest the [LCA] has in the national profession project — it’s something that we’ve played a pivotal role in,” Bugg said.
Although the LCA president viewed Ruddock’s critique as regrettable, he does not believe the law body’s relationship with the Government will be strained as a result.
“We’ve had a very good working relationship over many years with the Federal Attorney-General and his department. [Ruddock’s speech] certainly shouldn’t be allowed to affect it, because it’s a very important working relationship,” he said.
“It would be a very sad day indeed for Australia, and the lawyers of Australia, if the [LCA] should in any way think that it can’t come out and speak on these topics, just because of the relationship it either has, or has had, with the Government or the Attorney-General.”
Nor does Bugg believe having top firms more involved in the LCA (through the proposed Major Law Firm Group) will result in pressure being applied to avoid political issues in order to preserve the government work these firms attract.
“I’m absolutely confident, as a result of my discussions with representatives of the major law firms, that they will not be in any way applying pressure to the [LCA] to stop talking about these issues because of government work,” Bugg said.
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