Queensland Law Society

Legal Profession Dinner 2016 - president's address and presentations

Legal Profession Dinner

26 February 2016, Sofitel Brisbane Central

President’s address

9.15-9.30pm, 15 mins

Introduction

  • Good evening.
  • My name is Bill Potts. I am the 2016 QLS president and I am here to help you.
  • It is a great pleasure to be here tonight, at one of our most celebrated events each year.
  • I have always enjoyed attending the Legal Profession Dinner, and having the opportunity this year to address you all makes the event that much sweeter.

Address

  • Although it may surprise many of the judges and Magistrates in front of whom I have appeared throughout my career, it is not in my nature to indulge in hyperbole. I provide that disclaimer because I want to start by noting the following: the legal profession is all that stands between order and chaos.
  • That may sound grandiose, but it is in fact the truth. When the rights of citizens are threatened, when governments overreach their authority, or when people are simply caught within a maze of legislation, it is the legal profession which takes up the cause and ensures that justice is done.
  • We are all familiar with the famous Shakespeare line, "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers". Many of us will also be aware that this was in fact Shakespeare's recipe for chaos – Shakespeare recognised that disposing of all lawyers was the first step in totalitarianism.
  • Lamentably, Shakespeare was his usual prescient self in this regard – authoritarian regimes throughout history have always sought to suppress the legal profession in furtherance of their aims. Hitler did it in 1930s Berlin, harrying the lawyers of the time with his thugs and tame media. Some brave lawyers pushed back against this, in particular Hans Litten, who even managed to cross-examine Hitler in 1931 in an attempt to have the Nazi party declared illegal. Sadly, Litten died in Dachau, but his brave commitment to the rule of law should be an inspiration to us all.
  • Even today, oppressive regimes seek to destroy the legal profession in an effort to protect their activities from scrutiny and challenge. Thankfully, Australia's strong, secular democracy does not indulge in this pernicious practice, but that is not cause for complacency on the part of the profession.
  • 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. No matter what your practice area is, if you are a lawyer you are a human rights lawyer.
  • It is my intention as President to put the Law Society front and centre in the argument for good law and good lawyers. I find myself in an excellent position to do this thanks to the fact that I, like Sir Isaac Newton, stand on the shoulders of giants – the work of past presidents has ensured that the society has sufficient credibility and respect to be an influential advocate. In particular I acknowledge the work of the immediate past president, Michael Fitzgerald, whose tireless efforts served the Society well in 2015. I also acknowledge Michael's wisdom in not letting on how much work was involved as president until it was far too late for me to change my mind!
  • It is fair to say that embracing our obligation to the law will not always make us popular. Nothing illustrated this so clearly as the public outcry following the Court of Appeal decision in the Baden-clay matter. I note with some pride that Queensland Law Society, its members and the Queensland legal profession overwhelmingly supported the court and stood up for what was right, not what was popular. Our resolve in this regard will be tested again and again as these emotive issues arise - witness the well-intentioned, if legally futile, offer of sanctuary to asylum seekers by some churches.
  • My goal is that the society will provide leadership on these issues, as it represents the best ideals of the legal profession in Queensland. In addition to advocating for just and workable laws, the Society must set the standards for the profession, and the bar must be set very high-especially in the realm of ethics.
  • It is an artefact of the role the profession plays in our society that, inevitably, lawyers for the most part see clients during times of tension and crisis. It is often our role to protect our clients from their emotions, their weaknesses, themselves.
  • Even when people are not in contact with lawyers or involved in disputes, the legal superstructure which underpins our community is supporting and guiding them. It protects them and empowers them, controls their actions and obeys their commands; in short, it is the closest thing we have to The Force.
  • If lawyers are to accept our roles as guardians of this powerful, yet fragile, network, which provides much of the backbone to civilisation, we can only do so by aspiring to the highest of standards. In leading the profession in this vital role, the Society can only be as successful as its membership is strong.
  • Thankfully, the Society enjoys an abundance of talented and driven members, and in particular I would like to acknowledge the efforts of those who volunteer their time to assist the Society in its mission. Those who serve on QLS Council, for example, must carry the burden of setting the Society’s strategic direction, read voluminous meeting agendas, and sit through Council speeches from me that make this one look like a tweet.
  • I also note the efforts of those who serve on the society's policy committees. These members provide expert analysis of proposed legislation and discussion papers, often on ridiculously short timeframes, which allows the Society to speak authoritatively on these matters and to ensure that the government's policy decisions are informed by evidence rather than populist emotion. This work is inevitably done in the rather optimistically named "spare" time, which for lawyers usually occurs sometime between midnight and 3 AM. Similarly, those members who give up their time to present at the Society's seminars and workshops, provide articles for Procter and other QLS media, are much appreciated.
  • These volunteers capture the essence of what Queensland Law Society is about - they sacrifice their own time for the greater good, providing their time and expertise for no other award than a stronger and smarter legal profession in Queensland.
  • The Queensland legal profession has a proud heritage, one which I hope to enhance during my term. We can do this by constantly challenging ourselves to be better lawyers and better people; to question how we can better discharge the duties with which we are privileged. We are society’s guide, protector and conscience; I urge you all to embrace that role with dignity, enthusiasm and pride. If we can do that, I am sure that both the Society, and society in general, will be in good hands.

Closing

  • I hope to engage with the various leaders of the jurisdictions and with the government in its various forms to assist in providing access to justice for all in our community.
  • I am well aware that I do not undertake this journey alone. If I see further tonight, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.
  • I look forward to working with our deputy president Christine Smyth, the new QLS Council, the wider profession and, of course, the hardworking policy committee members and QLS staff who will assist me in this journey.
  • I also look forward to speaking with you all tonight and during the year at future events.

Presentation of President’s Medal

9.30-9.35pm, 5 mins

Introduction

  • It is now my pleasure to present tonight’s awards.
  • The Queensland Law Society President’s Medal is awarded to an individual who has proven their abiding commitment to the legal profession and has lived a professional life in service of their Society.
  • This year, the calibre of applicants was outstanding. For that reason, it has been decided that we will also award two Outstanding Contribution Awards.
  • Our solicitors do a great job, and I am pleased that we can acknowledge a lifetime of dedication to justice and the profession tonight.

First Outstanding Contribution Award

  • Firstly, our two Outstanding Contribution Awards are awarded to Queensland Law Society members who have played important roles within both the Society and the wider profession.
  • Our first Outstanding Contribution Award is presented to a person who has been described as an ‘outstanding litigation lawyer whose passion for the law, justice, ethics and the legal profession is a byword to her practice’.
  • This recipient was recognised in April 2015 by Australasian Lawyer as one of its Top 50 Women to Watch, and lectures regularly to lawyers at all levels of their careers through continuing legal education programs and lectures in Professional Ethics at the College of Law.
  • She is the current chair of the QLS Ethics Committee and a founding member of the Society’s Occupational Discipline Working Group, has previously served on the QLS Litigation Rules Committee and has worked in the profession for over 15 years.
  • Not only does this recipient contribute to the community’s access to justice through her membership of the Board of Management of the Animal Welfare League of Queensland and her recent appointment to the national pro bono Barristers’ Animal Welfare Panel, but she also contributes to Queensland and national legislation through her work with the QLS Ethics Committee and their contribution to the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules.
  • Please join me in congratulating Nola Pearce, Special Counsel at Carter Newell for her receipt of the Outstanding Contribution Award tonight.

Second Outstanding Contribution Award

  • The second Outstanding Contribution Award tonight is awarded to a QLS member who has contributed to ethical training for the Society for a number of years.
  • This recipient is a QLS Senior Counsellor who frequently assists Queensland practitioners in explaining law and practice, and is also the Chair of the Society’s Not-for-profits Committee.
  • He represented QLS and the Law Council of Australia at the C20 in Melbourne in the lead up to the G20, and was chosen by the LCA to represent the profession before the Financial Action Task Force at its Australian hearing in Sydney.
  • This recipient has been recognised for his contribution to law reform internationally, after he was thanked for his contribution to the law reform process by the Law Commissioner for England and Wales.
  • He has also been recognised by China, receiving a request for advice on human rights and rule of law issues, as well as his attendance at a conference held by the Beijing Normal University China Philanthropy Research Institute.
  • This practitioner contributes to access to justice through his contributions to law reform at the state, national and international level, addressing specifically the unintelligibility and injustice of laws.
  • He is the QLS representative on the reform of the Associations Incorporations Act, and contributed to the Law Council of Australia’s submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into Traditional Rights and Freedoms – Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws.
  • He has also had his Charity Law Bill introduced into Chinese parliament in 2015.
  • Please join me in congratulating Dr Matthew Turnour on his receipt of the Outstanding Contribution Award tonight.

President’s Medal

  • Now it is time to announce the winner of tonight’s most prestigious award.
  • The Society’s annual President’s Medal is awarded in the spirit of Queensland’s rich legal tradition, recognising an abiding commitment to justice, leadership and the legal profession.
  • Tonight’s winner has made significant contributions in the following fields:
    • Community access to justice
    • Queensland or national legal policy or legislation which delivers significant benefits to Queenslanders
    • Significant service or support to Queensland solicitors
    • Upholding the rule of law, and
    • The administration of justice in Queensland.
    • Tonight’s winner has nearly 40 years of experience within the profession and has been an active member of the Society throughout his career.
    • He has practised at the same firm since 1977 when he joined the partnership of Butler, McDermott & Egan, now known as Butler McDermott Lawyers.
    • He has practised from offices in Nambour for the past 38 years, offering those living on the Sunshine Coast and the Hinterland Regions continued, reliable and quality legal services.
    • It has been said that this recipient has no hesitation in offering pro bono legal services to those in need.
    • This can be seen in his involvement with the Morcombe family for which he is well known for his tireless and dedicated representation of the family, as well as instrumental in bringing the perpetrator to justice.
    • Following on from his work with the Morcombes, Peter assisted in the establishment of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, remaining a member of the Management Committee.
    • Recently, tonight’s recipient represented the family of Thomas Olive who passed away at Nambour General Hospital of a rare disorder which the doctors had failed to diagnose in time. The inquest provided his parents with the answers they needed to understand what had happened.
    • Also recently, he represented the family of Lilli Sweet at a coronial inquest following the tragic death of the six year old following a delay in receiving antibiotics for an infection.
    • Tonight’s recipient spends much time on coronial inquests, which are often emotional and disturbing, requiring a support, objective and caring individual as a strong legal advocate.
    • This recipient is also an honorary solicitor to a number of local organisations, including:
      • Daniel Morcombe Foundation
      • Sunshine Coast Health Foundation (Wishlist)
      • Nambour Rugby League Club, and
      • St Joseph’s Parish.
      • He has also volunteered one evening every six weeks at the Suncoast Community Legal Clinic for the past five years.
      • Tonight’s recipient has been honoured for his achievements throughout his career, receiving awards such as:
        • The Order of Australia Medal in 2013, and
        • The Civil Justice Award from the Australian lawyers Alliance in 2013.
        • He has also been a member of numerous boards.
        • Without further ado, for his contribution to Queensland’s legal profession, it is an honour to present Peter Boyce with the 2016 President’s Medal.
        • Thank you Peter, and once again congratulations.