President’s Report – March
High Court Appointments
I was honoured to represent the Law Society on Monday, 30 January 2017 at the High Court of Australia in Canberra for the swearing-in ceremonies for the Hon Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC and the Hon Justice James Edelman. A strong Western Australian contingent was in attendance at both ceremonies.
Chief Justice Kiefel is Australia’s thirteenth, and first female, Chief Justice. It goes without saying that her Honour’s appointment reflects a significant milestone in Australia’s legal and judicial history. Her Honour commenced practice as a barrister aged 21 at a time when there were hardly any women in practice at the Brisbane Bar. She became the first female silk appointed in Queensland in 1987 and, by the early 1990s, had one of the busiest silk’s practices at the Brisbane Bar. Her Honour was appointed to the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1993, to the Federal Court in the following year and, in 2007, was elevated to the High Court.
Justice Edelman graduated with the degrees Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Economics from the University of Western Australia. His Honour was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1998, obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy in Law from the University of Oxford.
After teaching at Keble College, Oxford, Justice Edelman was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australian in 2011. His Honour became a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia in 2015.
Justice Edelman is the first former justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia to serve on our nation’s highest court. He is also the fourth former member of Council of the Law Society of Western Australia to do so(^1). Having joined the Society in 1998, his Honour also made a significant contribution as Joint Chair of the Law Summer School Committee.
I also wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding contribution made by former Chief Justice the Hon Robert French AC, a Life Member of the Society, who has dedicated his career to the administration of justice and to the service of the Australian public, and who leaves a lasting judicial legacy.
The transcripts and audio visual recordings of the welcome ceremonies for Chief Justice Kiefel and Justice Edelman held on 30 January 2017, and of the farewell ceremony held for Chief Justice French on 5 December 2016, are available on the High Court’s website: hcourt.gov.au/cases/recent-av-recordings.
Western Australian Parliamentary Elections
As all will be well aware, the Western Australian State election is fast approaching. Late last year the Society asked both the Government and the Opposition to provide their responses to the Society’s position on a range of important issues relating to the administration of justice outlined in the Society’s Briefing Papers (which may be accessed on the Society’s website at lawsocietywa.asn.au/law-reform-and-advocacy/submissions).
The Society has now received answers from both the State Attorney-General and the Leader of the Opposition. These responses may be found in this issue of Brief.
The Society has also embarked upon a campaign to inform candidates seeking election of the current crisis in legal assistance funding. Candidates have been sent a letter accompanied by a concise flyer explaining the nature of the crisis and potential consequences for the community should funding continue to be inadequate.
The Society has called upon candidates to make a public pledge to fund legal assistance in Western Australia adequately. Candidates have been invited to make a commitment to the provision of an initial $8 million funding boost for legal assistance (in line with recommendations of the Productivity Commission), and for appropriate funding of legal assistance long-term.
Unfortunately, grants and ad hoc funding would not appear to offer a sustainable solution. According to the Australian Pro Bono Centre, in the 2015-16 year Australian lawyers provided 402,126.3 hours of pro bono work. The legal profession is doing its part. The Society considers that it is now up to our politicians to do theirs.
Law Summer School 2017
On a happier note, I was delighted to present the welcome address at Law Summer School on Friday, 17 February 2017 at the University of Western Australia’s University Club. Law Summer School is the Society’s flagship legal education conference and forms the centrepiece of our programme of Continuing Professional Development for the legal profession.
This year we were again privileged to hear presentations from a range of leading local, national and international speakers. The breakfast plenary was presented by Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, Commonwealth Attorney-General, who discussed Australian Lawyers in the Asia Pacific Region, while the Hon Marilyn Warren AC, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, delivered the keynote plenary address on Australia’s Place in the World. The conference was closed by the Hon Kim Beazley AC, who entertained attendees with Reflections of a Former Ambassador to the USA. Thank you to all of our distinguished speakers and to all delegates who joined us for an excellent Law Summer School.
A special thank you too to our generous sponsors, Marsh, Thomson Reuters, Unisearch Expert Opinion Services, LEAP Legal Software and legalsuper.
A feature on Law Summer School 2017 will appear in April Brief.
Unconscious Bias Training
Late last year the Law Council of Australia signed a collaborative project agreement with Symmetra to develop national training in relation to unconscious bias, customised for the legal profession. The Law Council has, on behalf of Law Societies and Bar Associations, agreed to provide assistance in promoting unconscious bias training to members of the profession and in maximising uptake of the training programme by practitioners and support staff.
It is intended that an eLearning programme relating to this very important initiative will go live by early March 2017. Further information will be available on the Society’s website once the programme is launched.
The Law Council of Australia has also launched an information campaign, Cyber Precedent, aimed at assisting the legal profession to defend itself against growing cyber risks. The importance of practitioners ensuring that confidential information remains secure cannot be overstated. Cyber-security remains an important priority for the profession. By appreciating the nature of the ever-present risks associated with being part of a digital age, and by having up to date software, the ongoing risk of cyber threats may be reduced. Further information, tools and resources are available at: lawcouncil.asn.au/lawcouncil/cyber-precedent-home
- The others being the late the Hon Sir Ronald Wilson AC KBE CMG QC, the late the Hon John Toohey AC QC (a former president of the Society) and the Hon Robert French AC.