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Unsolicited (Letters to the editor)

Every Issue

Cite as: (2005) 79(9) LIJ, p. 8


We welcome letters to the editor of no more than 400 words.
Email: letters@liv.asn.au. Fax: 9607 9451.
Mail: LIJ, Managing Editor Mick Paskos, GPO Box 263C, Melbourne 3001; or DX 350 Melbourne.
We reserve the right to edit letters and to republish them in their original or edited form on the
Internet or in other media. Letters must include a phone number and address for authentication.

Young and old need safer cars

There has been substantial discussion in the media regarding TAC and sponsorship. Aside from sponsoring football clubs and the Grand Prix, they could do no better than investing in vehicle safety for our two most vulnerable road users – young drivers and the elderly.

The newest drivers and our oldest drivers are overly represented as road victims. Perhaps this is because they are the groups most unlikely to be able to afford the latest and safest model cars.

How many young drivers are on our roads in dodgy second-hand cars?

It is a medical fact that older people do not recover from injury as well as younger people. Older people may die from injuries which, if they had been inflicted on the same person a few decades earlier, might not have been fatal. How many elderly drivers are driving around in vehicles which lack the latest safety features?

I would like to urge the TAC to consider a scheme to enable these drivers to drive in cars with current safety features including multiple airbags, antilocking brakes, side intrusion bars, improved crumple zones and so on.

Over the past two years the TAC has committed $240 million to fund infrastructure for VicRoads to make our roads safer.

Perhaps the TAC could use some of its vast resources to implement a voucher system to refund drivers who buy the safest cars. I would encourage the TAC to think creatively and enable vulnerable drivers of modest economic means to get access to newer cars.

We have instead been seeing a gradual removal of rights of young and old drivers. Prior to considering further restrictions of rights we should be trying to make their journeys safer.

John Voyage
Partner
Maurice Blackburn Cashman

For providing the letter of the month, John Voyage has won a $50 book voucher from the LIV Bookshop, redeemable for the next 12 months.

Call for compulsory pro bono

“The true profession of law is based on an ideal of honourable service. It is distinguished by its unique responsibilities”.

These noble sentences which prefaced the first edition of the New South Wales Solicitors Manual (1987) I like to think still encapsulate the essence of our profession today.

One of the responsibilities which distinguishes our profession, or its duty to the public, is to preserve equitable access to the courts and we can do that in the form of pro bono. In essence, pro bono is the way the profession shows the public that regardless of a client’s wealth, status or impecuniosity, we will assist their access to the justice system.

At the moment, however, the way in which we uphold this duty is largely left to the devices of individual lawyers and their conscience. Though despite this limitation, there are many lawyers already doing pro bono on an ad hoc or informal basis. As a whole, however, there is little profession-wide information on exactly who, why and how much pro bono is done.

The lack of information,
assistance or profession-wide reporting on the issue is due, in part, to there being no emphasis or statement on pro bono in our professional rules. The rules are at the head of our profession; they are statements of our principles and set out what is expected of us as practitioners. Yet neither the [NSW] Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 2005, [NSW] Law Society’s Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 1995 or the Law Council of Australia’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice 2002, [or the Victorian Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 2003] mention that it is part of a solicitor’s duty to undertake, where possible, pro bono.

Public confidence in our justice system could be eroded by the failure to maintain our professional responsibilities to preserve access to justice, which would have many costly consequences for our modern society. I do not need to mention them here, they are obvious. But we as a profession appear to accept this risk as we have yet to incorporate into our own professional rules a simple statement to the effect that it is part of a lawyer’s duty to undertake, where possible, pro bono work.

Davyd Wong
NSW Young Lawyers Pro Bono and Community Services director

The riches of free speech

The controversial comments of Professor Andrew Fraser of Macquarie University remind us how enriching free speech is to our society.

[The Canadian-born Associate Professor was cautioned by Macquarie University in July over a letter he wrote to his local suburban newspaper, suggesting Australia was becoming a Third World colony by allowing non-white immigration. Professor Fraser says that African migration increases crime, he believes that school test results point to a rising ruling class of Asians and he wants Australia to withdraw from UN refugee conventions.]

Over the years, there have been many public figures who have expressed views which have been controversial. Their comments about immigration policy, gender roles and sociology, for example, have challenged many apathetic and indifferent Australians to examine certain issues and have their own say.

Such controversies have sparked enriching debates from dinner tables to water coolers across the nation.

Free speech in a democratic and progressive society like Australia tends to be self-regulating. If controversial views are raised, they are debated by the public and then a general consensus is reached which, more often than not, results in a victory for the values of the majority: tolerance and common sense.

Professor Fraser’s disparaging comments about certain races need not spark hysteria and threats of violent reprisals. Rather, let’s look at what Professor Fraser has said, let’s share our views and examine the facts and then, like we did with Pauline Hanson, move on, but more enriched for having debated the diverse views espoused via free speech.

Kate Ashmor
Articled clerk
Pointon Partners

OPI director takes issue with interpretation

Dear Mr Cain [LIV CEO]

I refer to an article which appeared in the LIJ of July 2005 at page 14 under the heading “LIV to Brouwer: Name names”.

I am particularly concerned that the article suggested that I had backed away from comments I made at a Law Institute function. I wish to make it very clear that I have not.

The article selectively quoted from my letter to you of 19 May 2005 in a way which created an incorrect inference that I do not in fact have any information concerning members of the legal profession behaving unethically.

On any objective reading my letter made it very clear that I would “at the appropriate time” provide information of a failure by members of the legal profession to meet required standards to the Law Institute or take other action to ensure accountability. My letter went on to clarify this point even further with the following statement:

“You will appreciate, however, that this must always be subject to the investigative requirements of the Office of Police Integrity”.

I request that this letter be published in the next issue of the LIJ.

George E Brouwer
Director
Police Integrity

Editor’s note:

The LIJ takes claims of inaccurate reporting and selective quoting seriously – but, some background first.

At an LIV President’s Luncheon on 18 May this year, Mr Brouwer told those present, including the mainstream media, that he had seen instances “where some members of the legal profession are not behaving in accordance with the norms of legal professional ethics”.

The next day, LIV CEO John Cain wrote to Mr Brouwer asking for specific examples of such behaviour. Mr Cain wrote: “I would urge you ... to provide these particulars to me so that we may conduct a full and vigorous investigation”.

In a letter of reply, dated 19 May, Mr Brouwer said “ ... should I become aware of a failure by members of the legal profession to meet such [ethical] standards ... I will refer these matters to you or take other action ... ”.

The LIJ may be missing something, but as far as it can tell a shift from saying publicly that Mr Brouwer had seen instances of inappropriate behaviour to writing that “should I become aware” sounds clearly like back-pedalling from the OPI.

With Mr Brouwer’s permission, we reproduce his 19 May letter below, leaving it to our readers to compare and decide.

Dear Mr Cain

Thank you for your letter dated 19 May 2005 in which you invited me to provide particulars of any misconduct by members of the legal profession.

I am aware of the commitment of the Law Institute of Victoria to ensuring that the highest ethics and professional standards are maintained in the profession. I assure you that should I become aware of a failure by members of the legal profession to meet such standards, at the appropriate time I will refer these matters to you or take other action to ensure accountability.

You will appreciate, however, that this must always be subject to the investigative requirements of the Office of Police Integrity.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to address your members.

Yours sincerely

George E Brouwer
Director
Police Integrity

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