Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland has flagged that there will be changes to the national legal profession reform regime - particularly the make-up of the proposed national regulatory board - in a speech to the Law Society of Western Australia today.
McClelland explained that the intention for the national board was to have a range of stakeholder expertise, with members fulfilling board functions rather than representing any one interest.
However, McClelland noted that "the taskforce is still considering the appropriate composition of the board and further views will be specifically sought on this issue during further consultation".
Addressing concerns surrounding the national reform, McClelland discussed the "considerable debate" about the legal profession's future role in its own regulation.
"The profession over many years has made important and, for the most part, voluntary contributions to maintaining a strong professional code and system of accountability," he said.
"Increasingly, however, it is being appreciated that an appropriate level of consumer representation would be beneficial."
In April 2009, the Council of Australian Governments agreed on a plan to achieve national regulation of the profession and appointed a specialist taskforce and consultative group to produce draft uniform legislation within 12 months.
The taskforce has proposed that the National Legal Services Board should constitute up to seven members appointed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General with the Law Council of Australia.
It has also proposed that the members of the Council of Chief Justices each have a nominee appointed and that there should be board members with consumer protection and regulatory experience.
This highly anticipated draft legislation is to be delivered shortly so it can be addressed before the next COAG meeting in April 2010.
"Everyone is waiting until [the legislation] comes out so that we can assess what the impact will be," said Law Society of NSW president Mary Macken.
Noting the "degree of anxiety in relation to the project's time frame" McClelland said he hopes to achieve a timetable that "will allow more time for detailed examination and debate of the recommendations by the consultative group and the general public".
McClelland said the National Legal Profession Bill, which will be less than 200 pages, will be ready on time.
"I am pleased to report that the reform project is on track and a bill will be ready for consideration by COAG at its meeting in April," he said.
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