Jurisdictions not currently supporting national legal profession reform are likely to reconsider their position once they see its benefits, according to the Attorney-General.
Announcing yesterday (19 October) that New South Wales will host the National Legal Services Board and National Legal Services Commissioner, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said he is confident that those jurisdictions currently refusing to support the reforms - Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT - will eventually change their minds.
"These reforms will deliver benefits for the vast majority of the legal profession and I'm confident the remaining jurisdictions will come on board once they can see the clear benefits of the scheme up and running," said McClelland, adding that the cost of local regulation of the profession could no longer be justified.
"I commend my colleagues from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory for their good faith and constructive approach to these reforms."
The president of the Law Council of Australia, Alexander Ward, shares McClelland's optimism. He told Lawyers Weekly he is hopeful that all states and territories will come together to implement the reforms now that real progress is being made.
"I don't think the other jurisdictions are saying, 'No, we won't do it'," he said. "Rather, they are hanging off to see whether it is ever going to happen. Now they can see that it is, that this is a very serious, concrete step, because now the Bill gets introduced into Parliament, the Board gets established and the machinery starts to work. Up to this point, it has been a serious aspiration with a lot of work put into it, but now it is becoming reality."
Ward added that even if all jurisdictions do not immediately decide to support the reforms, it is likely that they will do so as the process progresses.
"[There is] a solid core of practitioners - which is 85 per cent of practitioners - with a solid core of jurisdictions in it, and the rest can join if they wish," he said. "Now that people can see that it is actually going to happen and it is crystallizing, I think there will be a review. A lot of people have said to me, 'Yes, but not yet'. But if you get in now, you have got a foot on the ground while things are still being developed."
Despite optimism from supporting jurisdictions that the reforms will eventually be broadly implemented, the non-participating jurisdictions continue to harbour concerns about what the reforms will mean for them.
Last month, the president of the Law Society of Tasmania, Bill Griffiths, told Lawyers Weekly that many of these concerns centre on questions about the necessity of national reforms and the potential cost of implementing such reforms.
But with Victoria agreeing to introduce legislation to introduce reforms that will be replicated across participating jurisdictions, the implementation of the scheme appears to be one step closer.
"National reforms to the legal profession have been four years in the making and I'm delighted we can now confirm the final steps in implementing the scheme," said McClelland.
"These reforms will serve the interests of both consumers and the legal profession by improving consumer protection, protecting the independence of the legal profession and ensuring access to justice."
The Law Society of New South Wales welcomed McClelland's announcement, with President Stuart Westgarth saying the decision to appoint NSW as the host state is a logical one.
"The fact that the National Board and Commissioner will be operating from New South Wales is a sensible decision having regard to the fact that the New South Wales profession is the largest segment in Australia, representing more than 40 per cent of the national profession," he said.
"In New South Wales, we have had, and under this regime will continue to have, a healthy and efficient co-regulatory scheme of regulation, and we will give every assistance that we can to the proposed Board and the Commissioner in the discharge of their functions."
Ward told Lawyers Weekly it is likely the reforms would be effective from 1 July 2013 in order to coincide with the renewal of practicing certificates.
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