THE AUSTRALIAN Government Solicitor (AGS) appears to be leading the way to universal equitable briefing standards, having referred more valuable work to female barristers than to male this financial year.
Figures released by Commonwealth Attorney-General Philip Ruddock last week showed that since 1 July 2003, male barristers acting for the A-G’s department received $82,000 in fees from AGS, $6,000 less than their female counterparts.
The results for the first third of 2003-2004, outstrip those registered last financial year, which showed the AGS paid $445,000 and $320,000 worth of fees to male and female barristers respectively.
“I am pleased with the lead being shown in the briefing practices of the [AGS] on behalf of my department,” Ruddock said.
The figures go some way to supporting the Government’s claims that women tend to receive better briefing treatment from the public sector. In 2002-2003, 18 of the 52, or more than one-third of barristers briefed by the AGS on behalf of the A-G’s department were female.
The proportion is much healthier than the 13.1 per cent unearthed by a Victorian Bar Survey earlier this year, the findings of which have provided the catalyst for the issue of a national model briefing policy to be placed on the agenda.
Despite reservations from previous A-G Daryl Williams, Ruddock supported moves for the Law Council of Australia (LCA) to develop a national charter.
Ruddock’s endorsement came after Shadow A-G Robert McClelland issued a veiled challenge to the Government on the day of last week’s Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting in Hobart, at which the matter was raised.
McClelland said Labor had developed a policy that would demand agencies with “significant legal expenditure” regularly report on their compliance to equitable briefing standards.
Co-forwarded by respective Tasmanian and Victorian delegates, Judy Jackson and Rob Hulls, the formulation of a national brief was supported by all in attendance, although Ruddock rejected measurement by quota.
“Consistent approaches at government level are likely to encourage a culture change within the broader profession and heighten awareness of bringing the best person for the job, regardless of gender,” a pleased Jackson said after the meeting.
“A national approach to the issue is consistent with the National Legal Profession Model Law Project.”
The gender briefing ratios of private law firms acting on government panels have not been released, although Hulls is believed to be in possession of figures outlining the practices of the 33 legal services providers retained by Victoria.
Convenor of Victorian Women Barristers, Fiona McLeod, said she expected to see the report shortly.