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By Law Institute Journal

Continuing Legal Education Opinions 

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This month’s books cover global ethics and governance, lawyer discipline, property rights and a historical saga.

The Crisis in Global Ethics and the Future of Global Governance book coverThe Crisis in Global Ethics and the Future of Global Governance 

Peter D Burdon, Klaus Bosselmann and Kirsten Engel (eds), Edward Elgar, 2019, hb 

This challenging book could not be read at a better time in our troubled pandemic world of 2020. It is a collection of 19 thought-provoking essays authored from around the globe focusing on the critical importance of humanity and its state institutions acting in an ethical manner to save its species and the planet which we all inhabit and share with nature. 

In 1994, Maurice Strong (Secretary-General of the Rio Earth Summit) and Mikhail Gorbachev launched an initiative (with support from the Dutch government) to develop an Earth Charter as a global civil society initiative.

According to its own website, “the Earth Charter is a document with 16 principles powering a global movement, an ethical foundation for actions to build a more just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century”. It was formally launched on 29 June 2000 at the Peace Palace in The Hague. 

This book is edited by three highly credentialled lawyers from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States and critically examines what has happened with the Earth Charter in the 20 years since its launch and what the future might hold for the application of its principles. 

The authors pose a key question in their preface:

“How do we get our bearings in today’s world – a world in such obvious ethical crisis, whose capacity for elementary ethical thought and shared self-governance is in considerable doubt? A world in which climate, biological extinction, nuclear and refugee nightmares vie for our attention with images of the most trivial consumer satisfactions on the omnipresent digital media?”

The first two chapters written by environmental scientist and theologian J Ronald Engel, set the tone for the meaningful and thought-provoking dialogue and discussion about the Earth Charter and its future in the remaining 17 chapters whose authors come from the fields of law, philosophy and theology.

In the final chapter Klaus Bosselmann and Prue Taylor note “just how deep the crisis of global ethics is”. They accurately describe the preceding chapters as providing “insightful commentary on the crisis, critical self-reflection on the Earth Charter movement and a considered view of the ability of political institutions to act before it is too late”.

This book made me stop, think, and consider how I can act in my own tiny world to ensure that my behaviour as a citizen of the world makes some contribution (no matter how small) to the welfare of humanity. I commend the book to readers.

Michael Dolan, special counsel, LIV Ethics, Wellbeing and Practitioner Support

Lawyer Discipline book cover

Lawyer Discipline

GE Dal Pont, LexisNexis, 2020, pb $168

Gino Dal Pont is an interesting, prolific author. An academic, he delights in examining difficult areas of legal practice, such as lawyers’ professional responsibility, the law of costs, laws of confidentiality and powers of attorney. His latest work, Lawyer Discipline, examines entitlement to practise, professional misconduct, discipline, readmission, fiduciary breaches and similar areas of legal practice. Significant portions of the work are concerned with Victorian cases and statutes, such as the various Legal Profession Practice Acts, the Civil Procedure Act, the Law Institute Acts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act. In canvassing these matters, Dal Pont displays an impressive mastery of detail.

The author explores the way in which changes in popular views on morality and politics have influenced the courts’ attitude to discipline and entitlement to practise, such as the fact that in earlier eras, communist beliefs disqualified (American) lawyers from being entitled to practise.

One Victorian case discussed in the book concerned Alex Lewenberg, who had berated a Jewish sexual abuse complainant for having assisted police in a matter rather than pursuing the issue within the Jewish community. The Tribunal considered that his declining to assist in the prosecution of charges of this nature was “truly shocking”. It issued a reprimand coupled with a 15-month suspension.

Another interesting case concerned Peter Clyne, who had previously served as a judge, but had then practised as a barrister. He had made what the court described as “an unrestrained and vicious public attack” on the person the subject of committal proceedings. This led to his being struck off the rolls. He appealed to the High Court, which dismissed the appeal.

Graham Fricke, retired County Court judge

Legal and Equitable Property Rights book cover

Legal and Equitable Property Rights

John Tarrant, The Federation Press 2019, hb $130

The concept of what is “property” according to the law has been the subject of numerous opinions from the judiciary, legal scholars, practitioners and other contributors to the discourse.

This book tackles the herculean, and what some may consider elusive, goal of identifying a uniform concept or definition of property in the context of private law. It attempts to achieve this goal by developing a comprehensive theory of property rights – which includes both legal and equitable rights – that the author contends is not only reconcilable with, but is derived from, the case law. By adopting this method, the author has tackled the task logically and meticulously, enabling him to present compelling arguments to support his theory.

The book is divided into 12 chapters in what the author describes as a “bottom-up” approach. The sequence of topics discussed is designed to take the reader through a journey of understanding – from introducing the reader to various theories of what is “property”, with a particular focus on the “thinghood” approach (Chapters 1 and 2); examining different characteristics of property rights (Chapter 3); discussing the relationship between legal and equitable property rights and ownership and private law (Chapters 4 to 6); to examining private law remedies that protect property rights (Chapter 7).

Whether or not this book has achieved its aim, it is both a commendable attempt and a valuable contribution to the legal discourse.

David Kim, Barrister

Caroline’s Dilemma book cover

Caroline’s Dilemma

Bettina Bradbury, Newsouth Books, 2019, pb $35

This book covers the trials of a young woman in Victorian Melbourne, Western district, South Australia and Ireland.

The author began her hunt while reading of a case in the Victorian Law Reports.

Caroline Kearney was left a widow of six at the age of 31. Penniless and without any right to the estate, she was forced under her late husband’s will to move to Ireland – a country she had never visited.

Kearney’s husband directed in his will that she raise their children Catholic.

Soon after, her late husband’s brother kidnaps one of the girls while Kearney is visiting her sister, and sends her to a convent where she later dies.

At its heart is a Catholic and Protestant sectarian struggle which played out in 19th century Melbourne and Ireland.

This struggle is well known but not well examined within the prism of the law.

There are some anxious questions: What is going to happen to this poor young woman, Caroline and her six children? The boys don’t want to be Catholic, they break out of their school, should they be coerced?

This case certainly encompasses the importance of the rights of the child and the rights of a child to be free from kidnap and imprisonment, particularly in the context of religious extremism. This is about control. ■

Tasman Ash Fleming, barrister and mediator


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