THE FEDERAL Attorney-General Philip Ruddock last week ruled out any suggestion that he was suffering from “reform fatigue” and linked maintaining a world-class legal system in Australia to the war on terrorism.
Speaking to members of the Law Institute of Victoria and Melbourne’s Lord Mayor John So, Ruddock said discussions with the legal profession had left him in no doubt that lawyers wanted a profession and regulatory framework “which is innovative, forward looking and in keeping with the demands of the modern legal profession”.
Ruddock listed the main elements of the reform agenda and said he wanted his time as Attorney-General to be remembered as a period of “genuine cooperation, constructive dialogue and real progress”.
The proposed reform agenda included the implementation of Justice David Ipp’s tort reform, bankruptcy reforms, developing the legal services directions and pursuing a uniform national defamation code, Ruddock said.
Linking these changes with the fight against terrorism, he said both issues put pressure on the law and the legal profession to respond with a mix of vision and pragmatism. Also, both required the Government and the private sector to work together.
Ruddock conceded he could not predict how the war on terror would end, or what level of success would be achieved by reforming the regulation of the legal profession, but he assured his audience he could tell one thing with certainty — his commitment and resolve on both issues was steadfast.
Ruddock praised those lawyers who played a valuable role in law reform by working with the government to “achieve outcomes which serve the public benefit rather than working for partisan, individualised objectives”.
He supposed that lawyers shared the Government’s frustration at the “age-old parochialisms and perceived special interests” which have in the past thwarted attempts for legal reform.
He acknowledged the legal profession’s “genuine desire to make progress” and urged his audience to take a responsible and rational position in debates on legal change.
Paying tribute to his predecessor Daryl Williams, who he said recognised the need for a national legal profession, Ruddock said he would try to make this idea a reality.
He was pleased to see the progress over the last two years but would be even more pleased when an inter-governmental agreement to protect the ongoing consistency of the model provisions was signed off by all states and territories.
According to Ruddock, the model laws for a national profession represented an historic chance to establish a more modern regulatory framework. This would make the delivery of legal services simpler and more transparent, he said.
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