National regulation of the legal profession through a legal ombudsman is being considered by a taskforce of federal and state officials.
The taskforce, established by Attorney-General Robert McClelland, is examining a plan for the ombudsman to set ethical standards for the profession, supervise the treatment of complaints from consumers and oversee delegated authority to state-based regulators, reported The Australian.
However, the cost of funding the new office, which could draw power from a network of consistent state regulation, may fall to lawyers rather than taxpayers.
Prospective candidates for the new institution could be put forward by state governments, but South Australia may require financial persuasion to agree to national regulation.
The South Australian Law Society's president, John Golberg, cautioned lawyers that accepting the planned uniform rules may be in the best interests to ensure the SA profession is not excluded forever, but that the legal practitioners' guarantee fund may need to be regulated in line with the rest of the nation to ensure inclusion.
"It follows that, unless South Australia is excluded for all time from being part of a national legal profession, it will have to fall into line with the rest of Australia," he wrote in the Law Society Journal.
"Ultimately, this may only come about by the Australian Government exerting some fiscal discipline over South Australia."
The new office, which could be funded by a charge on lawyers admitted to practice in the Federal Court, would be implemented and enforced by state-based regulators, but this would be overseen by the ombudsman, with the power to intervene to ensure the rules were being applied uniformly.
The taskforce is scheduled to present draft legislation to the Council of Australian Governments, which supports the national reform project, in April next year.
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