POSITIVE STEPS continue to be taken towards the harmonisation of the legal profession, with the first Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) harmonisation conference held on September 18.
Time is of the essence for the Federal Labor government if it hopes to achieve its harmonisation agenda, with its national grip on state governments loosening rapidly.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland and NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos attended the conference, with the stated hope of engaging business, industry, academics and the legal profession in a cohesive process for achieving legal harmonisation.
“To be truly competitive on the international stage, Australian governments need to ensure we have national solutions for national issues.” McClelland said. “It makes sense that we consult as broadly as possible in developing national solutions to issues that cut across State and Territory borders,” he told the conference.
McClelland referred to the recently tabled Rudd Government response to the House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Report into the Harmonisation of Legal Systems, but gave a conservative appraisal of the government’s intended response, stating that : “The Rudd Government will act on a number of the Report’s recommendations.”
Key priorities for McClelland’s harmonisation agenda include the development of national systems for registering suppression orders and personal property securities, developing proposals for harmonising complaint handling in anti-discrimination, developing a consistent approach to witnessing statutory declarations, developing a national Indigenous Justice Framework and reviewing and highlighting best practice alternatives.
The Attorney-General also foreshadowed the imminent adoption of the model legal profession laws across all jurisdictions, but admitted there were still hurdles to overcome, and called for further input from stakeholders.
“We are very close to having all jurisdictions adopt the model legal profession laws,” McClelland said. “Full implementation of the Model Bill will be a very welcome development after several years of hard work.
“However, there has already been considerable fracturing of the model. And I know that, for some stakeholders, the achievements of the Model Bill project are still not seen as sufficient for really efficient regulation. It requires careful ongoing assessment and consideration. I would greatly appreciate your input in this area.”
The conference was attended by 40 delegates from fields including the legal profession, law reform bodies, industry, business and academia.
“This closer consultation with interested parties on harmonisation issues delivers on another of the Rudd Government’s election commitments,” McClelland said.
In the government’s favour is the support of Chief Justice Robert French, who has spoken publicly in favour of a harmonised approach to the regulation of the legal profession. Speaking prior to his appointment to the High Court, French commented: “What used to be local has expanded to become national — and in that sense the federation has shrunk. The impetus for a national approach to dealing with a whole array of subject areas of government is not likely to diminish.”
McClelland also quoted his parliamentary colleague Lindsay Tanner, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, in support of the harmonisation efforts from a business perspective: “Better regulation also comes from better harmonisation between jurisdictions, to deliver seamless national markets,” he said.
The conference format was modelled on international approaches to the harmonisation of laws, such as the Uniform Law Conference of Canada.
The outcomes of the conference will be reported to SCAG ministers in November.