QUEENSLAND’S NEWLY appointed Legal Services Commissioner John Briton last week told the Far North Queensland Law Association that the most important thing about the Legal Services Commission was its independence.
Briton visited Cairns to promote the new independent body charged with investigating complaints against legal practitioners.
The Queensland Legal Services Commission (LSC) was formed in July this year following complaints concerning the independence of existing lawyers’ professional bodies.
The State’s Legal Profession Bill introduced the changes which forced the Queensland Law Society (QLS) out of its traditional role as both legal regulator and prosecutor.
Much to the QLS’s chagrin at the time, the Bill stipulated that the Society report its findings straight to the LSC, preventing it from carrying out prosecutions where it was believed a complaint involved a plausible case of professional misconduct.
“We wanted to create a mechanism to protect the rights of legal consumers,” he said. “It has to be a system that’s fair for both consumers and practitioners.”
But the QLS is still able to tackle some of its old responsibilities as the LSC can refer some complaints back to the Society for investigation. In some of those cases the QLS can make recommendations on whether disciplinary action should be taken, but the final decision rests with the LSC.
QLS president Glenn Ferguson told Lawyers Weekly at the time of the transition of power that the old perception of “Caesar judging Caesar”, which was “as rife as it was dubious”, was no longer sustainable.
It was a smooth transition of duties, Ferguson said last week, and although Briton is “kicking off from scratch in real terms”, he “seems to have made a lot of progress”.
The QLS is working with Briton and he “takes everything on board, even though he remains very much independent”, said Ferguson. “He seems to be very fair with all stakeholders.”
About the new role of the QLS, Ferguson said “we all cooperate and do all we can”. The QLS still investigates members but has no role in their prosecution. This change is “part of life”, he said.
It was now up to the QLS to make its new role work, Ferguson said, but, nevertheless, the Society was still finding it “difficult to come to terms with”.
The workload had dropped considerably in the prosecution area, said Ferguson, but “investigating takes a lot of time” and “we still do all the audit functions”. The QLS is, however, confident about its new role, he added.