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CLEAR Gala Dinner 2016
The Australasian Christian Legal Convention 2016 Gala Dinner
Friday 30 September, Mercure Hotel Brisbane
QLS president Bill Potts
I know that my redeemer liveth.
It is a pleasure to open this year’s Gala Dinner.
I would like to make special mention of dignitaries here tonight, including judiciary members, members of our Parliament, overseas visitors and other important guests.
The scripture for this year’s conference hails from Isaiah 51:4, with the New International Version reading – "Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations.”
I am sure all in this room are familiar with justice and our particular system in both Queensland and Australia.
The courts and practitioners of the law who appear in the courts, do not merely strive for justice but for justice according to law.
For justice to be justice, it must be individual.
The notion of justice and our justice system are the backbone to modern civilisation. Lawyers are indeed the guardians of this powerful, yet, fragile network.
And to pick up from the quote from Isaiah, in our lives and in our practices, we must hold up the lamp of justice in the darkness to shine its’ light to a cruel and often disbelieving world.
I have been a legal practitioner in Queensland for 35 years, practising in the area of criminal law.
I believe myself blessed as I live in a first-world country without war, crushing poverty and where the rule of law enables citizens to have both rights and remedies which are able to be mediated and heard before an independent judiciary.
I am fond of quoting Albert Einstein’s aphorism that those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act. It is a phrase worth repeating.
We have the privilege to know having education, qualification and position but we also have the duty to act in ways which reflect and enhance the light of justice in our own families, our own lives and in the community which nurtures and supports us.
Where we lead, others will surely follow and I commend to you the excellent theme of the conference “Redeeming the law for the kingdom of God”.
I have been asked tonight to give some brief comments about what redemption means for me personally, my practice of law, and the ways in which the Queensland Law Society are furthering the cause of redemption in our community.
Like all good lawyers, I realise that words have their own meaning and power and so in preparation for this speech I focused initially on the definition of redemption. Its meaning, of course, exceeds its strict definition.
There are two common meanings of redemption:
Firstly, it is the action of saving or being saved from sin, error or evil. This for everybody in the room I’m sure is a personal journey which is informed and empowered by your relationship with God.
Its second meaning includes the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment or clearing a debt. In its broader theological sense, it is a metaphor for what is achieved through atonement, and it is in that sense that the death of Jesus pays the price of a ransom, releasing Christians from bondage to sin and death. It is a freeing from captivity as well as the forgiveness of sins.
Tonight I will focus on the second definition and my experience of redemption through my own work and present role in the system of justice in Australia.
It is a personal undertaking and all in the room will have their own experiences and roles to play, underpinned by our own journey of gaining meaning in our lives in exchange for the payment of our human service to each other and to God.
We have all seen terrible injustices, both to our fellow citizens and by our fellow citizens (man’s inhumanity to man) and I observe as a criminal lawyer, that there are some repugnant crimes that even life in prison removed from our society cannot redeem people of. There are however, some crimes where the convicted are able to redeem and rehabilitate by reflecting on their behaviour and renewing their relationship with their families and their society.
It is a great pleasure when those who have served their time or repaid their debt to society are able to move forward without further law breaking.
I know that many in the community – often encouraged by the cynical bleatings of the media believe that criminals should be punished and locked away without mercy, but if humanity is to remain human then we must not merely warehouse violence, but rather seek to re-engage law breakers with the society of which they are a part.
This is the redemption of the freeing from captivity and the forgiveness of sins which is sought after but often neglected in a rush to beat a law and order drum.
Part of Christ’s teaching through the Sermon on the Mount was a lesson both to sinners, the sinned against and those who sought to do justice between the two. Christ said: “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy, blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”
I believe that those of us involved in the justice system assist in the amplification of justice by acting justly in all aspects of our lives.
We assist in the redemption of the convicted by dispensing justice but recognising appropriately regret, remorse and a desire to sin no longer. Where the expression of remorse is at best desultory or pragmatic, the courts still strive to encourage criminals to rehabilitate and recognise the harm that they have done to the fabric of society and to victims of crime by their criminal behaviour.
I am grateful that members of the Christian Legal Aid and Research International as well as all of the people in this room tonight believe in the saving power and mercy that redemption brings, advocating for what is right. This is most often achieved by safeguarding the justice system which is the cornerstone of our free liberal democracy.
Queensland Law Society tirelessly advocates for good law and good lawyers. What is good law and what it looks like will always be the subject of argument, dispute and peaceful resolution by our system of Parliamentary democracy.
The Law Society assists the Government and opposition of the day by freely consulting with them and providing its well of expertise to ensure that evidence-based laws that will achieve the purposes of public policy are passed.
We have sought to engage on issues of significant policy including the treatment of Indigenous people – our First Australians who suffer an incarceration rate of 33 times than that of non-Indigenous peoples in this State.
This is a parlous and appalling statistic which, if no action is taken, will lead to lost generations being confined to the factories of despair.
The reintroduction of the Murri Courts across the State, we have encouraged as a means of culturally engaging with Indigenous people in a meaningful way.
We have welcomed the proposed lifting of the limitation of actions for victims of historical sexual abuse in institutions. Like most complex legislation dealing with complex social problems I’m sure you’ll forgive me for saying that the devil is in the detail.
We think however that this is an excellent step forward to redeem many who lost their innocence and suffered great harm through neglect and criminality when they ought to have received understanding and support.
The recent announcement that will see the banishing of laws that previously sent 17-year-olds to adult prisons is also an excellent step in attempting to save children from the rigours of adult punishment.
I believe that by keeping children out of adult prisons we increase their chances of rehabilitation immeasurably, which is good for them and good for the community.
While we have seen some wins recently, there is always more that can be done to assist in deterring people from crime and assisting them in redeeming themselves.
Our system of justice also broadly allows judges to show appropriate mercy and to exercise a free discretion unfettered by mandatory sentencing strictures.
This is supported when we offer meaningful alternatives to incarceration and deterrent programs focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration with the community.
Can I conclude by reminding you of the quote from Proverbs 31:8 which implores us as lawyers and citizens to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
As lawyers, we represent and act for some of the most disadvantaged people in our community. It is imperative that we take concrete steps to improve the circumstances of disadvantaged members of our society.
Indeed, the role of the legal profession as the last line of defence against injustice and oppression is both a privilege and a duty. It carries with it the obligation to stand up and push back against unjust or unworkable laws, and to ensure that all Australians are treated equally under the law and have adequate access to justice.
Our belief in the dignity and rights of our fellow man are fundamental to the rule of law, and must be a tenet of our daily practice.
Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight, and I wish all of you the rightful reward for your passion – a life lived in service to a cause greater than yourself.
We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and keepers of this land and acknowledge all elders past, present and future.
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