THE NEW president of the Tasmanian Law Society last week announced he has no intention of backing down on the most contested issue facing the State’s lawyers.
Daniel Zeeman said he will continue the fight, against the Tasmanian Attorney-General if necessary, to reform the way the legal profession is disciplined and regulated.
Replacing outgoing president David Gunson SC, the new president Zeeman took over the top job in the peak body representing the legal profession in Tasmania and pledged indirectly to uphold an ongoing stoush with A-G Judy Jackson concerning the regulation of the profession.
In a fiery debate in the State’s Upper House last month, the A-G’s proposed reforms to the legal profession, the Legal Profession Amendment Bill 2004, was accepted with an amendment but then dismissed again by the A-G, who argued that the amendment made the Bill “unworkable”.
In an article for Lawyers Weekly last month, Jackson said the Government is not prepared to make a concession on the issuing of practising certificates. “This is a threshold issue for the Government,” she said.
“Of course, along with the issuing of the practising certificates goes the revenue and the Government does not believe the [Legal Profession] Board should be forced to enter into a contract with the Law Society from time to time to facilitate this arrangement,” she wrote.
The real issue, according to Jackson, is that the Law Society currently enjoys a role that is funded by revenue guaranteed by statute through the collection of fees for the issuing of practising certificates. She argued that because no other professional organisation in Tasmania enjoys such a statutory protection, there is no reason why the Law Society should.
But in an interview with Lawyers Weekly last week, Zeeman said this view concerned the Law Society. “[Jackson] has said she won’t budge on this issue,” he said.
“Who can and cannot practise law should never be determined by a body set up by the Government”, Zeeman said.
According to Zeeman, “this is not a situation that exists in other jurisdictions and would be a serious aberration if it existed in Tasmania”.
The one issue on which both parties agree is that discipline should be the role of the Legal Profession Board. The Society has been calling on the Government for five years to separate regulation from discipline to avoid what it called “the understandable criticism of Caesar judging Caesar”.
However, the Law Society should have a role in maintaining the standards of the profession, according to the Society’s executive director Martyn Hagan. “We have to have a role in the regulation so we can say we are maintaining standards, and our underwriters have said this is important,” he said.
But the amended Bill, which would have left the registration of lawyers in the hands of the Law Society, leaves Tasmania in an “absurd” position where “the independent board can discipline a lawyer but has no power to impose restrictions on their practice”, said A-G Jackson.
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