Bill Speech: Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Amendment Bill 2019
Ms SPENCE (Yuroke) (15:32:49): I rise to speak on the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Amendment Bill 2019. I do so as someone admitted as an Australian lawyer and as someone who very much supports the Legal Profession Uniform Law. This bill amends the 2014 act, which includes the uniform law, and it does a couple of things. Firstly, it facilitates Western Australia’s entry into the uniform scheme for legal profession regulation, it corrects a drafting error relating to the jurisdiction of the Victorian legal services commissioner in respect of complaints and investigations and it validates previous actions that have been taken in respect of such complaints and investigations. The uniform law scheme, as we have heard from other speakers today, is a uniform legislative scheme for the regulation of the legal profession which harmonises the regulation in participating jurisdictions. The uniform law covers areas such as legal costs, admission to the legal profession, business structure, licensing, trust money, accounts, the registration of foreign lawyers, disclosure requirements, professional indemnity insurance, dispute resolution, discipline, complaints and external intervention in law practices for supervision, management and receivership. The law also established the Legal Services Council—an admissions committee—and a commissioner for uniform legal services regulation. In practical terms it can also reduce red tape and procedural burdens that currently exist when navigating legal practice across different states. One of the objectives provided by the uniform law is, and I quote: … to promote the administration of justice and an efficient and effective Australian legal profession, by— (a) providing and promoting interjurisdictional consistency in the law applying to the Australian legal profession … There is clearly an intent in this scheme that it be adopted across all Australian jurisdictions. However, to date, as we have heard, only Victoria and New South Wales are participating. This bill extends that participation to Western Australia, and I hope that more states and territories will follow. I say that because, whilst we have a state-based legal system, with courts operating in each state and legal practitioners admitted in each state, much legal action takes place across state borders. Lawyers may be dealing with more than one jurisdiction, and whilst they need to be able to navigate jurisdictions as seamlessly as possible, so should clients have a common expectation and understanding of the responsibilities of the legal profession. It is also important to note that lawyers are not admitted as state-based legal professionals; they are admitted as Australian lawyers. When considering this bill, I re-read my admission certificate. You will have one of these too, Acting Speaker Kilkenny. After a number of formalities it says: … This Court Admits her to the legal profession as an Australian Lawyer and as an officer of the said Court and orders that her name be enrolled by the proper officer of the said Court accordingly. To me it make sense that the laws regarding the legal profession be uniform across Australia, and this bill brings another state into that scheme. It should also be noted—as it has been by other speakers—that attempts to develop this national approach have been a long time coming, from the work of former Attorney-General Rob Hulls in the Bracks government and the development of the model laws to the work undertaken by COAG from 2009 to 2011 and the uniform law provisions in the 2014 act. To say the legal profession is reluctant to change is a massive understatement. As mentioned above, one of the areas that the uniform law covers is the admission of lawyers. My experience is a good illustration of how embedded in tradition and past practice the legal profession can be, even when it is not necessarily practical. I was admitted as a lawyer in 2006, which is not all that long ago, and the process of admission was something like an episode of The Amazing Race or a treasure hunt. You had to go trekking around the city, get numerous forms sorted out and of course pay fees in various places. I just want to give you a snapshot. Acting Speaker, I do not know what your experience was, but this was pretty bizarre. Bear with me, and I will give you a snapshot of what we did. First of all, you would advise the Supreme Court and the Board of Examiners for Legal Practitioners that you intend to apply for admission. This notice of intention must be served in person to the secretary of the board or his assistant, who are located on level 1 in the old High Court building on Little Bourke Street, and a copy must also be pinned to the notice board in the ground floor corridor. This notice has your full name, your residential address, your date of birth, your telephone number and your signature, most of which is really not appropriate to have pinned on a notice board in a public space. However, past practice and tradition require this to occur. You then need to contact your university and arrange for them to send your academic transcript to the secretary of the board by registered mail—you cannot do this yourself; it must come from the university—and if your name has changed along the way, you must also have the documents that evidence that change. You then need to arrange for two affidavits of character from acceptable deponents, as provided in the Legal Practice (Admission) (Amendment) Rules 2003—so you have got to go and find them. Then you complete your affidavit in support of the application for admission; attach the affidavits of character, letter of disclosure, name-change documents and a copy of your degree certificate, with all of the affidavits being sworn and all of your copies being certified; and file these with the secretary of the board. You then need to ask an Australian lawyer to move your admission and provide that person with a brief and copies of all the affidavits and annexures and make sure that whoever is moving your admission is properly attired in a wig, gown, bar jacket and jabot. I was very pleased that my friend the now member for Scullin, Andrew Giles, was happy to move my admission and that he was properly attired when he did so. Then of course there are fees that need to be paid, and this is quite a specific process. The composite fee must be paid first, and it must be taken to the cash register operator at the counter in the court registry in Lonsdale Street. It must be made in cash or bank cheque, and the cash register receipt must be retained. You then must go to the Supreme Court Library in William Street, where you pay the library fee—again only cash or cheques accepted—and you present the cash register receipt from the composite fee payment to the librarian. The librarian will retain the original of your board certificate for admission and will provide you with a photocopy. While you are at the library you have then got to go to the noticeboard to find the hour of admission that you have been allocated. You then attend that ceremony at the Supreme Court, where of course there is another very precise process. I have somewhat abridged that process; the actual process is a 17-page document of these sometimes ridiculous steps that need to be taken. I raise this process firstly because I find it amusing how unnecessarily cumbersome it is, but also to highlight that this was the process in 2006—not 1986 but 2006. It was a process that was undertaken because that was tradition and past practice. Pinning your notice of intention for admission on a noticeboard with all your personal details was just how it was done—but perhaps not the best thing to do in an age of identity theft. There was really no reason why it needed to be so cumbersome. I am pleased to say that I checked last night and finally the admission process has been updated and is online. I do not know the extent to which it has been updated, but certainly the lodgement and the payments are now done online, so that is a great leap forward. The process could have been simplified, but this is a real indication that the legal profession moves slowly and is very reluctant to change. I raise it because it is another example of the procedural requirements that would make much more sense if they were uniform, given that you are being admitted as an Australian lawyer, not as a Victorian lawyer. The uniform laws cover some really important aspects of the legal profession, including costs and disputes, which also ought to be uniform across the nation. I welcome Western Australia joining the scheme. I do hope that we see more states and territories adopting the uniform laws. It makes no sense that either practitioners or clients should have different rules apply to them depending on which state they are in and in particular where large firms may have operations across states. As I said earlier, this is a bill that includes Western Australia as a participant in the uniform law scheme. It is something that will no doubt have benefits to legal practice. If best practice can be adopted by looking at what efficiencies can be gained and having a cooperative relationship with other states, then no doubt the beneficiaries will be the legal profession and the clients. I hope that nobody has to do that treasure hunt or The Amazing Race to get admitted as an Australian lawyer again.