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'Despicable' behaviour eroded legal profession’s faith in government

'Despicable' behaviour eroded legal profession’s faith in government

The former president of the Bar Association of Queensland has opened fire on the “despotic” actions of the Newman government, labelling former attorney-general Jarrod Bleijie as “incompetent”.

In a speech delivered to the Bar Association of Queensland on 25 March, Peter Davis QC said he was appalled by the government’s “insidious attacks” on the profession and the courts.

He said the appointment of Tim Carmody as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court amidst overwhelming opposition was one of many crises that had undermined the profession’s confidence in the government.

Mr Davis expressed disappointment in the bar association’s response in the wake of his resignation and urged it to defend the integrity of the system of administration of justice.

The speech followed the presentation of life membership by the bar association to Mr Davis. Mr Davis shared a copy of his address with Lawyers Weekly.

“From the moment an inexperienced and under-educated and, in my view, incompetent, Attorney-General was appointed in 2012, the bar was faced with huge trials,” he said.

The anti-bikie laws, “harmful” changes to the juvenile justice system, weakening of the corruption commission and the “intolerable and matter-of-fact” assaults on the legal profession “threw up more controversy than any president could expect in 10 terms”, Mr Davis said.

He accused the Newman government of slandering and disparaging judges with whom they disagreed: “Lawyers who dared to challenge laws introduced by the Newman government were besmirched as part of the ‘criminal gang machine’.”

These comments were the subject of a defamation suit launched by a principal at Hannay Lawyers in April last year against former premier Campbell Newman and Mr Bleijie.

Even more concerning for Mr Davis were the “shameful breaches of confidence” by the Attorney-General in choosing to release details of conversations with Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo and himself regarding judicial appointments.

"Among its other despicable actions, [the government] attacked the court itself and ... slandered the President of the Court of Appeal."

“I realised too late that confidentiality meant nothing to that Attorney-General. I realised that speaking with him achieved little more than allowing him to clothe his decisions with the false claim of proper consultation when, in reality, there had been none,” he said.

Mr Davis resigned in June last year in protest against the Attorney-General’s alleged leaking of confidential conversations, which he said compromised the integrity of the process of appointing judges.

Mr Davis applauded silks and judges who had made their dissent and disapproval public, claiming that these objections helped to stall further “talk of outrageous law-and-order legislation”.

However, he was decidedly unimpressed by the bar association’s apparent “identity crisis” and its lack of commitment to championing the views of its members.

“Surely this was a time for strong public opposition to the government, not submission to it.”

In particular, he questioned the association’s attendance at Justice Carmody’s swearing-in ceremony: “Why were we literally standing up for the one man whose appointment we had actively opposed, rather than supporting the 25 judges who had refused to attend as a matter of principle?

“I know that a number of the judges thought that to be a stand against them.”

He said he would not stand as president in the future, despite the urging of his peers. 

Lawyers Weekly contacted the president of the Queensland Bar Association, Shane Doyle QC, but he was unavailable for comment.

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