Personal Injuries Conference 2017
Friday 27 October, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
President's opening address
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Society’s Personal Injuries Conference.
In keeping with our reconciliation commitment it is culturally appropriate and important to acknowledge the First Nations people as the original inhabitants of the land on which this event is taking place here in Meanjin, and recognise the remarkable country north and south of the winding Brisbane River, home of the Turrbul and Jagera nations.
Following cultural protocol, we pay our deep respects to all Elders past and present as well as our emerging leaders of tomorrow, and thank them for their wisdom and guidance.
Renowned wit and writer Oscar Wilde famously quipped that “only the shallow know themselves.”
We find ourselves in this room to pursue new depths in our understanding, by being open to change, and learning from the wisdom of others.
The QLS learning and professional development team has put together another excellent program to support your growth, with the support of our generous sponsors including Gold Sponsor MediLaw and Silver Sponsor Assess Group
Today’s conference tackles high-level issues relevant to the personal injuries sector, as well as specific skills that solicitors can apply to their daily client work.
We are fortunate to be joined by presenters with significant experience and exceptional insight.
In particular, I want to thank the Honourable Ian Callinan AC: it is wonderful that a person of his stature has made time to give back to the profession through his keynote address, which is up next.
Personal injury sector
One of my goals as president in 2017 has been to counter the criticism often directed at solicitors, with a message of positivity.
Throughout this year I have been vocal about the essential role of solicitors, and our achievements.
I have actively engaged the media on high profile cases, laws and decisions—with the goal of demonstrating our relevance and reinstating confidence in our justice system.
Our profession deserves to be held in high esteem.
We are accountable to the courts, committed to the rule of law—and characterised by strong values.
Yet, a survey earlier this year showed that Australians rate nurses and doctors the most honest and ethical professionals, while just 35 per cent of people agreed that lawyers could be trusted.
One silver lining to that-when asked about their solicitor, as opposed to all solicitors, the trust rating was much higher.
That tells me that when people actually meet and deal with us, rather than accept the cartoonish depiction offered up on most American sit-coms and movies, we come across very well.
The personal injuries area is certainly one in which harmful stereotypes and media hype have obscured the good work you do; all of us here know the dangers of believing the hyperbole of the click-bait world.
You provide succour in times of need and ensure fair outcomes, for both plaintiff and defendant.
You also work hard to resolve matters quickly and without undue expense or stress to those involved
We need people to stand up for the rights of individuals who are hurt, suffer a disability, or have their employment prospects diminished.
The livelihoods of families depend on it.
Conversely, we need people to defend the rights and integrity of individuals, employers, companies and institutions acting in good faith, and in accordance with the law.
Defendants in a personal injuries case are often businesses doing their best to provide goods and services we want or rely on, and in doing so: contribute to our economy and employ many people.
Both sides of the personal injuries legal profession contribute in a meaningful way to a world where rules matter.
I am steadfast in my support of solicitors as noble professionals who step into the breach created by disputes, to uphold the law and the fundamental tenants of what keeps our society just and fair.
I have been, and will continue to be, vocal about the vital contribution you make to society; whatever the media might think of our members, the society is proud of you and will always stand up for you.
I often, and somewhat facetiously, compare the QLS to Queensland’s upper house.
But I am completely serious in my conviction that our members, committees, staff and council play an essential role in maintaining checks and balances within our system.
Solicitors make an essential contribution to the fabric of our communities, our state, and our nation.
A big part of standing up for our members is our engagement with government, one of the crucial duties of the Society
Let me share with you some of the amazing work that the Society has achieved in 2017 so far.
We’ve advocated strongly for the appointment of solicitors to Queensland courts, and have seen a number of appointments.
We’ll continue to lobby for resources to our courts to reduce delays, and support the difficult work undertaken by our judges and magistrates.
As President I’ve overseen and personally signed off on no less than 90 submissions, with over 100 successes in our advocacy work this year.
QLS participated in the Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Stakeholder Reference Group and successfully submitted to the Group that the making of a decision to accept or reject an application for a medical assessment should be reviewable.
Our submission requesting that insurers pay for workers’ travel expenses to and from a medical assessment was adopted, in relation to the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation (Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017.
We attended public hearings and met with key stakeholders on issues emerging from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. We made submissions on the amendments to Limitations of Actions Act and on the Issues Paper considering a range of civil litigation reforms.
The Society also regularly engages with WorkCover Queensland, the Motor Accident Insurance Commission and the Courts on personal injuries matters.
We’re currently working with the Supreme Court of Queensland to reform Practice Direction 9 of 2007: in relation to persons under a legal disability. We’ve raised issues around legal costs and fund management fees, confidentiality, processes and QCAT.
Our advocacy achievements are not possible without the solicitors and staff that participate on our policy committees—for that, I offer my thanks.
Our advocacy and engagement with government, however, is ongoing and not always easy, because as solicitors we have fundamentals which cannot be compromised.
Just as this advocacy cannot be done with a clenched fist, it also cannot be done cap-in-hand; there are times when we must stand firm and hold the government accountable
This year, we have noticed concerning trends in some legislation-removal of the presumption of innocence, legislating away the right against self-incrimination and the cold fingers of strict liability closing around the rule of law
Even more concerning, some of these changes were tucked away in fairly innocuous legislation; vigilance is clearly needed going forward.
In the personal injuries world, the law society has always advocated for fair compensation, sustainable schemes and the protection of common law rights; these are fundamentals and on this we cannot compromise.
There are of course times when we are aligned with government, and can be supportive, but when we disagree, when the fundamental tenets of our profession are threatened, we need to be strong in our opposition.
We do not, after all, live in a country where opposition to government can be detrimental to one’s health-such as Tanzania, whose law society president has been arrested six times in the last year.
That does not mean we can become complacent-there are more subtle ways to seek to limit our professional independence or compromise our fundamentals.
Any challenge to the pillars of our profession-our duty to the administration of justice, to act in our client’s best interests and to maintain the confidences with which they trust us-cannot be tolerated. On those issues, with apologies to Neville Chamberlain, there can be no ‘peace in our time'.
Philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Better to know a few things which are good and necessary than many things which are useless and mediocre.”
I have no doubt you will gain ‘good and necessary’ insights today, as you continue to hone your expertise in personal injuries law.