President’s Report – May
LAW WEEK 2016
By the time this edition of Brief reaches you, Law Week 2016 will be mere days away. As many of you will no doubt be aware, Law Week is an annual celebration of law and justice in the community. It provides an opportunity to demystify the legal system, to build a shared understanding of the role of law in society and to recognise legal practitioners who consistently contribute to the community through pro bono work.
As legal practitioners, we all understand the significant role that the law plays in each of our daily lives. For people who are not constantly immersed in legal practice, the importance of the law may be less clear. It is vital that the public is well-informed, whether understanding individual rights under the law, employment contracts, how a mediation works, through to setting up a business, having a will prepared or simply knowing what to do and where to go for legal assistance.
A central focus of Law Week this year is the national Legal Aid Matters campaign, which calls on Parliamentarians to address the current crisis in legal assistance funding. The campaign is being coordinated on a national level by the Law Council of Australia and law societies from every State are taking part.
The current legal aid funding crisis is a result of successive cuts by governments over many years. These cuts have caused real harm, often to the most disadvantaged members of our community and results in significant flow on costs to the taxpayer. Some of those who can least afford to access legal assistance, such as people with disabilities, young people, and Aboriginal people, have suffered significantly after being denied legal aid.
The Legal Aid Matters campaign aims to raise public awareness about the need for legal assistance and make it a legitimate issue for the upcoming Federal and State elections.
During Law Week 2016, the Society will once again be showcasing a wide array of seminars, information sessions and social events for both the community and the profession.
Law Week will be launched with The Case for Legal Aid – Law Week Breakfast with Fred Chaney AO on Monday, 16 May at 7.15am. We are also delighted to once again welcome the Attorney General, The Hon Michael Mischin MLC, to the Law Week Breakfast, where he will present the Attorney General’s Community Service Law Awards.
Also on Monday, 16 May, the Society’s Francis Burt Law Education Programme will welcome nominated Year 10 students, who will take part in a one-day course to enhance leadership skills and civic awareness.
On Tuesday, 17 May, I am participating as one of several Ambassadors in the inaugural Law Access Walk for Justice which will take place from 7.30am to 8.30am. Please join me at Barrack Square on the CBD foreshore on National Pro Bono Day to celebrate the important pro bono work done by so many in the legal profession and to help raise funds for the Law Access Pro Bono Referral Service.
On Wednesday, 18 May at 6.00pm, the Society’s Young Lawyers Committee will host the Law Week Panel Discussion on ‘Homophobia within the Law’. A panel of eminent speakers will discuss the laws that continue to create barriers for the LGBTIQ community.
On Thursday, 19 May, the Law Week Cocktail Evening is an opportunity to recognise recipients of the Lawyer of the Year Awards and Life Member Awards. It is also a chance to join colleagues and distinguished guests for an evening of music and conversation in a relaxed atmosphere.
There are many more events for both the community and the profession taking place throughout the week. Please visit lawsocietywa.asn.au/law-week/ to book your place at a Law Week event or to find out more.
NEW LAW LIBRARY – SOCIETY RAISES CONCERNS WITH GOVERNMENT
Further to my update in the February 2016 edition of Brief, the Society continues to represent its members’ interests in the new Law Library. The Society received advice from the State Solicitors Office on Friday, 1 April 2016 that both the Legal Profession Amendment Bill 2016 and the Legal Profession Amendment (Levy) Bill 2016 (Bills) were to be debated in Parliament the following week. This was coupled with advice for the first time that Cabinet had not accepted the changes the Society and the Western Australian Bar had submitted on 23 December 2016. No explanation was given as to why nor any opportunity for further discussion.
Subsequently, I wrote to the Attorney General the Hon Michael Mischin MLC and the Hon Adele Farina MLC, Chair of Committees advising that the Society has significant concerns with the Bills, for a variety of reasons. The Bills have now been passed in the Legislative Assembly. However, the Society remains opposed to the Bills, given:
- our concern with the formulation of clause 548A(5) in the Legal Profession Amendment Bill 2016 as it currently stands (which presently allows for government to charge any fee it likes for the service if the profession does not agree and makes no provision for ending the arrangement);
- the fact that the profession will have more limited access to the new library; and
- the public will have no access.
Furthermore, it has come to the Society’s notice from the conversations that the Shadow Attorney has had with the Department of the Attorney General (DoTAG) that DoTAG proposes a levy that would, in the first year of operation of the Law Library, almost double the current $125 contribution included in the cost of a Practicing Certificate from the profession. This does not make sense when:
- the level of service will be less than the current Supreme Court Library;
- there are cost savings likely from removing unnecessary duplication of staffing, floor space required and subscriptions; and
- we are told that an accurate figure of the costs, taking into account the cost savings cannot be provided to us because the Department is at least 6 months behind in completing the work required in amalgamating the libraries.
I have again written to the Attorney General the Hon Michael Mischin MLC on 15 April 2016 and Hon Adele Farina MLC on the 11 April 2016 seeking urgent meetings to discuss the Bills before they are introduced into the Legislative Council. The Society will continue to engage with government and other affected stakeholders such as the Western Australian Bar Association and the Legal Practice Board of Western Australia to represent our concerns to government.