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Crime and punishment

News

Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.24

Attorney-General Robert Clark outlined the government’s law and order agenda for 2014 at the LIV’s Conference of Council.

Single punch laws are to be considered by the Victorian government, the Attorney General Robert Clark said at the LIV Conference of Council delegates in February. Consideration of laws targeting the violent crime dubbed ‘coward’s punch’ will be part of the government’s law and order agenda for 2014.

In a wide-ranging address, Mr Clark foreshadowed enhanced court facilities, new laws covering attacks on emergency workers and child sex abuse, and continued work on “far-reaching” baseline sentencing reform.

“There is plenty happening,” Mr Clark said. “I can tell you without saying too much that there is more on the way in that regard [enhanced court facilities] that will be rolled out in coming months.

“We also seek to establish a judicial commission that will set standards of judicial conduct and receive and handle complaints about members of the judiciary.”

Mr Clark said recommendations on sexting would be implemented and work would continue on asset confiscation legislation. The government has also targeted vexatious litigants, defensive homicide laws, privacy laws and data protection for reform this year.

A key aspect of the government’s past and future criminal law agenda, Mr Clark said, was clarifying the message that crime would be punished.

“In criminal law, we have aimed to improve the messaging. At the end of the day, a key part of criminal law is about getting into people’s heads that there are consequences from their actions, and hopefully that will deter them from criminal activity in the first place.

“That’s been the philosophy that’s underpinned our policy of getting rid of suspended sentences, which I know has been contentious.

“The offender thinks that if they get a suspended sentence they have got away with it. So part of it is to send a message that jail means jail. The other part of it is to have community based orders which will deter them from re-offending. We have adopted an integrated approach.

“I don’t believe we’ve left a gap in the available range of sentences. What we have done is avoid the ambiguity of a pretend jail term and offenders who think they’ve got away with it. They leave court and say, ‘you beauty’. They should face the consequences. If they walk away they should have some form of community correction order (CCO).”

Parole “was another example of where the system was not working. Offenders believed there would not be painful consequences for their actions which led to them pushing the system to its limits with the tragic consequences that we have seen.

“Post our reforms, we believe the parole system is substantially reformed and strengthened and we believe it is operating well.”

Mr Clark said he was already getting anecdotal feedback from the judiciary and corrections that there was “a far greater respect” for the parole system from prisoners and also those on parole.

Regarding new laws to keep mass murderer Julian Knight in jail, Mr Clark said the government was not demonstrating a lack of respect for the separation of powers or a lack of confidence in the parole board.

“No and no. The High Court has made clear that parole is a matter for executive government . . . Julian Knight was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 27 years and beyond that, the terms of parole may be granted by executive government.

“Mr Knight is effectively in a category of his own in terms of the mass slaughter he committed. We are fortunate in Victoria that we have incarcerated only one person who is guilty of those crimes. He is the only person to whom these laws will apply. Heaven forbid we will need to do it again.”

Mr Clark acknowledged that uniform legal profession reform had had a “tortuous” history, but it was finally coming to pass, if not on 1 July then 1 January 2015, and he encouraged those states that hadn’t signed up to do so.

Regarding legal aid, Mr Clark said the government had provided record levels of support and that there were challenges for the effective delivery of legal aid which he continued to monitor. The Commonwealth contribution had declined and he would continue to raise it with federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis.

Conference of council

The LIV’s Conference of Council is an annual event at which some of the legal profession’s most pressing issues are examined.

Mental health of lawyers, the multi-generational workforce, supply and demand of law graduates, the future of billable hours, legal best practice and the 2014 state election were discussed in sessions with specialist guest speakers.

Opening the conference, LIV president Geoff Bowyer told delegates from around Victoria and interstate that the legal profession faced “considerable challenges” and it was increasingly important to be able to navigate issues such as work-life balance and working longer in a multi-generational workforce.

“Our profession, as well as the clients we serve, is transforming and we find ourselves at the crossroads where shifting demographics, technological advancement and increased mobility meet,” Mr Bowyer said.

“For some this will be daunting, but it shouldn’t be. The natural partner of change and disruption is opportunity . . . But we must work to be agile in responding to a changing client profile and be innovative in developing the services they will need and the way they are delivered.”

In the session Wellness in the law; addressing workplace culture health and wellbeing, Marie Jepson of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation gave details of “Psychological Wellbeing – best practice guidelines for the legal profession”, a document which will be available mid-year on the foundation’s website www.tjmf.org.au.

UNSW Law School associate dean (research) Professor Janet Chan presented preliminary results of her national study, which is supported by the Australian Research Council and the Law Council of Australia, on whether law firm culture contributes to stress and depression. Professor Chan revealed a correlation between firm culture and the level of workplace stress and job dissatisfaction. One quarter of survey participants reported feeling stressed and one third reported feeling depressed.

King & Wood Mallesons’ mobility and wellbeing manager Vicki Irvine told how law firms could implement a mental health framework to develop a culture of acceptance, tolerance and support and gave a snapshot of what KWM has done to change its culture.

Diversity and the multi-generational workforce was the next topic, with Lisa Barry from Deloitte Australia and Angelina Pillai from the Australian Human Resources Institute leading the discussion.

The ongoing participation of mature workers means there may be up to four generations working together in the same environment. The challenges facing law graduates was discussed by Monash University’s law school dean Professor Bryan Horrigan, Melbourne University law school Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson, Geoff Nicholson from the College of Law Victoria and Jemima Roe, a fourth-year law student and vice president of the Australian Law Students Association.

The number of law graduates is going up while the index of solicitor job ads is going down. Speakers acknowledged that more lawyers from more law schools (36 nationally, seven in Victoria) coupled with a slowing economy, flat growth in law firms, competition from non-legal providers and an increase in offshore transactional work meant employment prospects for law graduates were lower than in the past, certainly at large and medium law firms, and so other options needed to be considered.

The tyranny of the billable hour was another topic for discussion, with the emphasis on moving towards value pricing.

Legal best practice – a future perspective, was addressed by Matthew Bolle from Macquarie Bank. He explored impediments, including international firms and increased competition, to legal growth, accessing panels and corporate counsel work, and developing a competitive advantage or point of difference.

In the penultimate session State Election 2014: What are the issues? Hawker Britton director Simon Banks spoke on the big issues and key seats. Mr Bowyer launched the LIV’s Call to the Parties document and called on members to contact their local member and advocate the LIV’s position on what it sees as the 10 key issues (http://tinyurl.com/px232sx). They are legal aid, improving access to justice in rural, regional and remote areas, reviewing the Charter of Human Rights & Responsibilities, criminal justice reform, reforming tort law, religious exemptions under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), transparency and accountability, privacy protection, court fees and improving the State Revenue Office reporting framework.

In the final session, the LIV’s relationship with country and suburban law associations was examined, with a view to revitalising it and achieving better outcomes for members and the LIV.

Carolyn ford

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