SOUTH Australian Premier Mike Rann has accused lawyers of shunning accountability and demanded they toughen up.
Speaking before a ‘hostile’ audience of hundreds of lawyers convened in Adelaide last week for the 21st World Jurist Association Conference, Rann pulled no punches in a stunning attack on the profession.
“I believe the legal fraternity needs to do more to rid itself of a clubby image that appears to exclude, not include the community,” he said.
“The legal fraternity must also develop a thicker skin and be open to scrutiny by the public.
“Judges and lawyers, unlike political leaders, do not have to front hostile news conferences, angry constituents or face election.
“We must all be responsible for decisions we make and not be afraid of criticism.”
To demonstrate his point, Rann added that he would stand by the vitriolic comments no matter what the response.
“I’ll cop the criticism — whether it’s justified or not. It goes with the territory.”
“In any case, I think a healthy respect as well as a healthy tension between the executive, the parliament and the judiciary is good for democracy and good for justice.”
“It shows we are not in bed together and that there is no collusion.”
Despite the force of the attack, the Law Society of South Australia declined the opportunity to respond directly to the comments on behalf of members. Its president, Andrew Goode, is understood to have met with Rann on Wednesday 27 August, shortly after Lawyers Weekly went to press.
“We don’t want to engage the premier in a fight in the public arena,” a law society spokesperson said.
Rann’s tirade, broadcast before global delegates from 34 nations as well as domestic legal luminaries including federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams and SA Chief Justice John Doyle, is the second time a senior member of the state government has publicly opened fire on lawyers this year.
In March, temporarily deposed Attorney-General Michael Atkinson branded lawyer opponents to the government’s tough criminal law reforms as “snobs”.
“What these insiders have in common is that they live in leafy suburbs, drive late model cars, have the best home-security that money can buy and have matching New Class political opinions,“ Atkinson was quoted as saying, two months before standing down from the post pending a now completed police inquiry.
“I find myself running into people who work in the justice system who think criminal justice is a matter much too complicated for members of the public, and that public opinion on criminal justice is valueless and to be ignored.”
Nigel McBride, managing partner of Minter Ellison’s SA office, felt the latest round of criticism was once again directed more towards criminal rather than commercial lawyers.
“But I agree with the comments that we can do more to change the perceptions about lawyers,” he added.
McBride acknowledged that lawyers “hadn’t been smart” to date in communicating the good work that had been done.
“Lawyers need to work more closely with the government, pro bono bodies and legal aid agencies.”
Echoing Rann’s thoughts on accountability, McBride said: “We must accept that we are in the public eye and learn to deal with scrutiny that goes with the territory. Mr Rann’s com- ments serve as a reminder that we can’t be compla- cent about perceptions and I’m not going to bag the premier on that.”