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"Fix fragmentation" - departing Legal Services Commissioner

Briefs

Cite as: October 2009 83(10) LIJ, p15

Victoria's inaugural Legal Services Commissioner (LSC), who has resigned after nearly four years in the role, supports a national profession which would operate under one legislation and one peak regulator.

Vic Marles said professional associations such as the LIV should have a critical role in this standard-setting and rule-making because it was a fundamental principle that the profession was independent from government.

"At the moment we have eight different regulatory systems that fragment all the data about the profession, and this fragmentation needs to be guarded against," she said.

The federal government has created a specialist Council of Australian Governments (COAG) taskforce to make recommendations and prepare draft legislation to form a single national legal profession by a May 2010 deadline. The LIV is represented on a consultative group working alongside the taskforce.

"I think the taskforce and all stakeholders need to ask which key functions of regulation need to be national in order to say you have a national system, and which features are most effectively dealt with in a home jurisdiction," Ms Marles said.

"National regulation would be able to hold and consolidate all relevant data about the profession and practitioners, and this would provide better information for practitioners and regulators."

Ms Marles said it was critical the taskforce carefully considered every relevant option, including consumer protection regimes in other industries.

"From a consumer perspective these schemes are well understood and may provide useful insights as consumers want disputes resolved via a speedy, inexpensive and informal mechanism."

She said the proposed complaints handler should be given powers of redress for consumer disputes between lawyers and clients, and that clients should be able to make complaints against firms and practices as well as against individuals.

Ms Marles established the new regime of the LSC and Legal Services Board (LSB), when she was appointed Commissioner and LSB chief executive in December 2005.

She leaves, at a time when "the establishment of the new regulatory system is largely complete", to become CEO of non-profit organisation Trust for Nature, which aims to conserve native bushland.

LIV CEO Michael Brett Young said the time was now right for the state government to reduce the regulatory burden on the profession by streamlining the Legal Profession Act, "which is one of the most dense and proscriptive pieces of legislation around".

Mr Brett Young said he and Ms Marles had had "fruitful discussions" about the national model.

"She has provided some very strong input, especially with her experience as the Telecommunications Industry Deputy Ombudsman, about a new complaints process and how to reduce delays in complaints handling," he said.

Mr Brett Young, however, does not believe consumers should be able to lodge complaints against firms.

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