THE PEAK body representing the legal profession has called on political parties in the lead up to the federal election next month to address what it has identified as the major issues for Australian lawyers.
Access to justice, legal profession regulation and the affordability of law degrees, among other issues, were raised by the president of the Law Council of Australia (LCA) as issues “close to the heart of legal practitioners” and “relevant to the well-being of Australians”.
The LCA has written to all major political parties, asking them what they plan to do about 10 key factors. The parties were asked to outline their stance on each topic, LCA president Steve Southwood QC said.
These ranged “from legal aid and access to justice issues to child asylum seekers, judicial pensions and the further examination of a Bill of Rights”, he said.
The LCA is expecting responses from the major parties concerning its written questions by the 29 September. The responses will then be made available to the public.
In writing to the major parties, the LCA asked about their preparedness to reinstate legal aid funding to pre-1996 levels. “The drastic legal aid cuts of the current government’s early years disadvantaged many Australians, particularly women, and the funding shortfall has never been made up,” Southwood said.
Regarding legal profession regulation, the LCA asked if the parties were committed to the National Legal Profession Model Bill and the pursuance of uniform national standards for the profession.
The current judicial pension system ensures that high-calibre lawyers continue to be attracted to the Bench, the LCA has argued. In its questions to the parties, the LCA asked whether each would be committed to retaining the current judicial pension scheme.
The LCA believes that Australia’s present policy of mandatory detention of child asylum seekers is inconsistent with its human rights obligations. It asked the major parties what they intend to do to ensure child asylum seekers are treated fairly and humanely, “in accordance with international law and basic human rights standards”.
Another key issue for the LCA was the recent announcement by the Federal Government that it intends to introduce new legislation requiring lawyers, among other professionals, to report suspicious transactions by their clients.
The LCA is concerned that this approach will impinge on client confidentiality and place onerous requirements on sole practitioners and smaller firms.
Questions on family law, terrorism and the rule of law as well as the Bill of Rights were also included by the LCA. “The issues we have chosen are close to the hearts of legal practitioners around the nation,” Southwood said.