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Message from LIV president Stuart Webb: Integrity of the profession

Message from LIV president Stuart Webb: Integrity of the profession

By Stuart Webb


Dear Colleagues,

The Victorian Royal Commission into Management of Informants will soon commence.

Our profession will attract public scrutiny as a result of the inquiries and public hearings that will occur, and information that will be released periodically.

The primary focus of the Royal Commission’s terms of reference is on the information provided by informant 3838 relating to criminal prosecutions; the conduct of Victoria Police members managing informant 3838; and present practices of Victoria Police members in the recruitment, handling and management of human sources in the criminal justice system, including those who are subject to legal obligations of confidentiality or privilege.

This Royal Commission is relevant to the legal profession as informant 3838 was a practitioner in our profession. She was briefed to appear by legal firms to represent their clients.

The release of information regarding informant 3838 will contribute to potential public concern about whether they can trust their lawyer to keep their communications confidential.

The LIV will continue our work to ensure that the public trust in the legal system is maintained. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the confidence in lawyers as trusted advisers for our clients and for the people of Victoria generally remains strong.

Today the government said that there are further informants who held obligations of confidentiality who may be relevant to the Royal Commission.

We are unaware of any other legal professionals who have breached any obligations of confidentiality.

We support the Royal Commission and its work, and support remedies to ensure the integrity of the justice system is upheld.

Our Ethics Advice Line is always available to members with any concerns around these issues. We have resources, including ethics videos, available on our website, where members can access more information and guidance on this and other areas of professional responsibility.

I expect that you may be asked questions by members of the public or clients about these events. The following information is provided to assist you in responding to those questions:

• Lawyers are acutely aware of their legal and professional obligations

• When admitted to practice we make a promise to uphold our duties in accordance with the rule of law. Every year when renewing a practising certificate, lawyers must declare completion of compulsory Continuing Professional Education Units, which includes completing courses in ethics and professional skills

• The legal profession is bound by a strict code of ethics under which our paramount obligation is to the administration of justice

• Lawyers must adhere to legal professional privilege rules which protects the disclosure of communications between a lawyer and their client where they relate to legal advice or for use in legal proceedings

• Informer 3838’s actions are not reflective of the standards upheld by the whole profession

• The Royal Commission into Management of Informants will focus on Victoria Police’s recruitment and management of its informants

• The conduct in this matter was condemned by the High Court in its judgment in AB (a pseudonym) v CD (a pseudonym) [2018] HCA 58

“Here the situation is very different, if not unique, and it is greatly to be hoped that it will never be repeated. EF's actions in purporting to act as counsel for the Convicted Persons while covertly informing against them were fundamental and appalling breaches of EF's obligations as counsel to her clients and of EF's duties to the court. Likewise, Victoria Police were guilty of reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging EF to do as she did and were involved in sanctioning atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer to discharge all duties imposed on them faithfully and according to law without favour or affection, malice or ill-will. As a result, the prosecution of each Convicted Person was corrupted in a manner which debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system.”

The Law Institute of Victoria will continue to work on behalf of the legal profession to ensure that the highest degree of ethical and professional standards are practised by the lawyers of Victoria.

We will maintain the good name of lawyers who act fairly, honourably and tirelessly on behalf of their clients and the justice system in Victoria.

Yours sincerely,

Stuart Webb

President, Law Institute of Victoria

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