THE TASMANIAN Government has rejected an amendment to the Legal Profession Amendment Bill 2004 which was recently passed by the State’s upper house. According to Tasmanian Attorney-General Judy Jackson, the amendment makes the Bill “unworkable and financially unsustainable”.
The A-G’s refusal to accept the amendment has angered the legal profession, which has labelled aspects of her reasoning “political spin”.
Claiming that the amended Bill would leave the registration of lawyers in the hands of the law society, Jackson said the notion of an independent umpire to deal with complaints against lawyers had been “lost”.
“We are left with an absurd position where the [Law Society’s]independent board can discipline a lawyer but has no power to impose restrictions on their practice.”
She was opposed to handing over the power to issue practising certificates to the Law Society. “The [Tasmanian] Law Society remains responsible for collecting fees and this is not in the best interests of consumers,” Jackson said.
But according to the Tasmanian Law Society executive director Martyn Hagan, “what [Jackson] is saying is completely inaccurate”. The legal profession would like a role in the regulation of the profession, Hagan said. “We want a say in making rules of practice and in issuing practising certificates which, in various forms across the country, are things the legal profession is usually included in,” he said.
“But the Attorney-General says we only want that so we can get our hands on the money. ”He suggested the money would still go to the board. “We are not after a pile of money, but a role,” he said.
“We want to be involved in professional standards legislation, we want the consumer protection focus.”
A priority for the Law Society is to have a role in maintaining the standards of the profession, Hagan said. “We have to have a role in regulation so we can say we are maintaining standards, and our underwriters have said this is important.”
“These days professions are about setting standards of professional integrity. We are not after anything that is not happening in the rest of the country,” he said.
But A-G Jackson maintained that the Law Society being responsible for collecting fees is a concern. “This does not happen with any other professional body in Tasmania and there is no reason for lawyers to be treated any differently.”
“The Government insists that if public confidence in the legal profession is to be maintained we need greater independence, accountability and transparency,” Jackson said.