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LIV advocates for profession during pandemic

LIV advocates for profession during pandemic

By Karin Derkley

COVID-19 

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The LIV has successfully advocated for a number of measures to assist member firms and practitioners dealing with restrictions during the COVID-19 period.

Among them are new government emergency regulations that allow many important legal documents such as wills and powers of attorney to be signed electronically and witnessed by audio-visual means. They also include the introduction of judge-alone trials and the ability for matters to be resolved "on the papers", which also applies to a number of prescribed non-criminal issues.

The LIV also called for lawyers to be designated as providing an essential service to give certainty to practitioners, clients and the community and allow for proper business continuity planning.

After COVID-19 restrictions were brought in under the state of emergency towards the end of March, large numbers of lawyers across all practice areas contacted the LIV with concerns about job losses, the impact on clients and practice viability, as well as systemic issues around the courts and administration of justice.

LIV committee members identified issues for practitioners and the system and made suggestions for immediate changes to address the immediate impact of the restrictions, and long-term changes to address systemic issues exposed by the pandemic conditions.

As a result, the LIV made a number of submissions to the federal and state attorneys-general, and engaged in other forms of advocacy with the courts, correction services, and other agencies.

In its letters to the attorneys-general the LIV pointed to the unprecedented impact the COVID-19 was having on courts and legal services all across Australia and called on them to find ways to provide financial support for those in the legal profession who would struggle to continue to offer access to justice for the community due to the impacts of COVID-19.

LIV CEO Adam Awty said advocating on behalf of members was a central role of the LIV. Now, probably more than ever, it was beholden on the LIV to make representations to government and legal stakeholders to bring issues affecting practitioners to their attention and push for reform, he said.

“We are all working hard for the safe continuation of the administration of justice in this state, and the legal practitioners who work within it."

The LIV has been part of the common law and civil justice stakeholder group chaired by Chief Justice Ferguson to consider issues arising from COVID-19, and helped establish a criminal justice sector stakeholder group chaired by Judge John Cain on behalf of Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson.

In the most recent advocacy efforts, Sam Pandya and Adam Awty presented this week  to the Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic on behalf of the legal profession.

Mr Pandya told the hearing the LIV was largely supportive of the  government's Covid-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020, which he said "for the most part aligned with urgent reforms we had raised via letters and ongoing consultations with the government".  

Many of the LIV's recommendations to ensure the state's legal and justice system would continue to function efficiently and safely were included in the Omnibus Bill.

Among these are:

  • electronic filing and execution of affidavits and more use of audio-video links and other technology in proceedings
  • broader relief from 2020 land tax liabilities to assist taxpayers where the owner has consequently deferred or waived rent
  • extending interim Family Violence and Personal Safety Intervention Orders from 28 days to three months
  • more resourcing of community legal centres that have been inundated with calls for legal assistance by the community as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions
  • implementing protective quarantine measures in prisons
  • measures to alleviate the requirement for low risk cohort of bailed individuals to report in person

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