IN HIS FIRST address as president of the Queensland Law Society, Rob Davis told members the Society’s council was committed to change.
Speaking at the Central Queensland District Law Association’s annual conference, he said the appointment of a “smaller, leaner Council” and new CEO, former president Peter Carne, were indicative of that commitment. He said the Society, “freed almost completely from the turmoil, doubt, worry and stress” that preceded the Legal Profession Act 2004, would be able to focus on its core responsibilities — member services and providing an informed, responsible voice in public policy debates and matters relevant to law and justice.
Davis said member services included protecting and asserting the integrity and dignity of the profession. “For example, since becoming president, I have written to the Attorney-General raising concerns about ‘claims farmers’ who attempt to induce injury victims to contact them about making a claim for damages.
“Recently the New South Wales Government amended its personal injury legislation to prevent third parties from promoting personal injury legal services and we are urging the State Government to do likewise,” Davis said. “It is of fundamental importance — ethically and from a business perspective — that all practitioners work on a level playing field.”
He had also asked the Attorney-General to investigate a website called Who’s Ya Daddy, which promoted a service to seek court-ordered paternity tests.
While members could be “reasonably sure” of a positive outcome on such matters, there was a “much bigger, much more important and far less certain fight” ahead. “I refer to that disgraceful, discriminatory and appalling piece of legislation called the Civil Liability Act,” Davis said.
He said the Act had denied personal injury victims meaningful compensation and given the insurance industry “the greatest windfall” it had ever enjoyed. “When politicians and the insurance industry — very largely comprised of multi-national corporations with virtually limitless resources — are united in what is an unholy alliance against injury victims, then something is very seriously wrong.”
Davis accepted that governments had been panicked by the “so-called insurance crisis” after the collapse of HIH. “However, now that everybody has the benefit of hindsight and the time to reflect and reconsider, it is not unreasonable for everybody who has the interests of injury victims truly to heart to look again at the legislation,” he said.
“I defy any politician to stand up and say ‘the legislation cannot be amended, cannot be changed and cannot even be reviewed because the multi-national insurance companies would see that as a risk to their huge profits’.”
Davis said the Civil Liabilities Act was typical of legislation allegedly introduced to protect people. “When legislation imposes upper limits on compensation for injuries or mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, then that is an attack on the independence of the judiciary, an assault on the rule of law and insulting of the checks and balances of our justice system, which has worked well and evolved to meet contemporary needs,” he said.