Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 21 September 1995) . . Page.. 1599 ..
LEGAL PRACTITIONERS (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (10.38): Mr Speaker, I present the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 1995, together with its explanatory memorandum.
Title read by Clerk.
MR HUMPHRIES: I move:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
This is a short measure which will amend the Legal Practitioners Act 1970 in order to end governmental involvement in the appointment of queen’s counsel in the Territory. Members will recall that on 5 July 1993 the previous Attorney-General announced that the Government of which he was a member had decided to endorse the recommendations of the Assembly Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, which I then chaired, and impose a moratorium on governmental involvement in the appointment of legal practitioners as queen’s counsel for the ACT. Such a moratorium had been recommended in the Legal Affairs Committee's report “Access to Justice in the ACT”.
The issue of ending governmental involvement in the appointment of queen’s counsel clearly remains on the public agenda. The conferring of special status by the Government can be seen as being outdated, since other professions themselves confer special status on their members, and the matter of the recognition of the forensic skills of individual practitioners is, accordingly, properly one for determination by the legal profession itself. This process has since been advanced by the previous New South Wales Government, which passed the Legal Profession Reform Act 1993, which abolished any power of the Crown to appoint persons as queen’s counsel.
This ending of governmental involvement in the appointment of queen’s counsel was endorsed by the Trade Practices Commission in its report on the legal profession. It recommended that all States and Territories should withdraw from the official selection and endorsement of queen’s counsel. The commission summarised its assessment of the situation as follows:
While the Commission has received no evidence to suggest that the title of QC confers market power which of itself allows the holder to charge higher prices and earn higher profits, it remains the case that official government endorsement of the status of a limited class of professional service providers cannot be justified in the public interest.
The commission also stated:
Identifying certain barristers as highly experienced and skilled might reduce information difficulties of clients and their solicitors and lower their costs of finding advocates of appropriate standards and ability. However, sophisticated, well informed clients who are advised by experienced solicitors are usually the ones who require the services of senior barristers in more complex cases. Such clients can usually look