It's a privilege to serve as President of the Law Society and continue the Society’s proud history of carrying the voice of the legal profession.
We are lucky to live in a country that respects the rule of law and affords all citizens equal rights under the law. However, we must continue to be vigilant to protect independence of the justice system. With that in mind, some of the broader themes of my Presidency for 2017 are summarised below:
The Law Society has a long history of resisting laws that undermine the independence of the judiciary and erode the fundamental rights of citizens. During my tenure as President I will intend to be a strong advocate for protecting the independence of the justice system against undue interference. Our judiciary must be independent, impartial and fearless in the delivery of justice.
More than 300 years ago, in England, Judges recognised that people in a relevantly proximate relationship should owe a duty to take reasonable care for the wellbeing of others. They recognised that where a breach of that was established the injured should be entitled to be compensated in a manner which, as best could be achieved, put them in the same position as they were prior to the breach.
Over the ensuing decades and centuries Judges noted this principle as an important aspect of the society in which we live and the way in which we treat each other.
In recent decades, the Parliament in this State has severely eroded the importance of the duty to take reasonable care for your “neighbour” and to properly compensate where that has not occurred.
Most recently, in the area of motor vehicle accidents, adequate compensation is no longer provided unless the injuries sustained are bordering catastrophic. Premiums which were supposed to be for the purpose of compensating those that are injured have been diverted to road building.
A review of the scheme, by legislation to have commenced as soon as practicable from 1 July 2016, is still to be undertaken.
In the area of workers compensation, the ReturnToWorkSA scheme commenced operation on 1 July 2015.
A select committee of the upper house of the State Parliament is undertaking a review of the ReturnToWorkSA scheme.
The Society will be actively involved in these areas and will argue for appropriate compensation for those who are injured in compensable circumstances.
The legal profession is, rightly, one of the most regulated professions there is. It is important that there is a robust regulatory regime to ensure practitioners provide quality legal services to clients. The Law Society is indeed a key part of the regulatory regime. There is nevertheless cause to explore existing compliance obligations of practitioners and examine whether the regulatory burden on practitioners can be eased. There is also a need to speak out against unnecessary new impositions on legal practitioners, such as the proposed Anti-Money Laundering amendments, which add a needless extra layer of red tape for lawyers and other professionals. Too much regulation will inevitably result in higher costs for clients, when instead we should be looking at improving access to legal services.
The law society will continue to advocate for a new courts precinct. Our existing court building, with its ageing infrastructure and numerous structural defects, is simply not fit for purpose. Despite previous false starts, we will continue to agitate for the Government to make good on its promises and build a modern courts precinct that the community can be proud of.
In recent times there has been an increase in work traditionally performed by lawyers being conducted by non-lawyers. There has also been a proliferation of “DIY” kits. A key focus of my presidency will be to promote the value and, often, necessity, of suitably qualified lawyers to undertake legal work. Outsourcing legal work to non-lawyers, and preparing important legal documents without legal advice, can expose people to serious risk.
I look forward to working with Members in a spirit of collegiality and co-operation to stand up for the legal profession and Rule of Law.
Tony Rossi, President