Queensland Law Society

President's Update

img20170215_QLS_Update_President_banner_v2.jpg 

It’s a pleasure to report that our announcement of a campaign to encourage older Australians to discuss possible elder abuse with their local GP has gained enormous support.

It has generated a lot of media attention, including a live national interview I gave on Sunday morning’s Sunrise program, and if successful this initiative could have the potential to be adopted across Australia.

The premise for a trial involving 315 clinics in south-east Queensland is that, for many elderly people, their most trusted non-family confidante is their local doctor. As patients, they are accustomed to discussing intimate medical problems in the privacy of the surgery. And with GPs and their staff on the lookout for symptoms of elder abuse, it is a natural fit for this topic to be canvassed within the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.

The GPs can then refer patients to appropriate support services such as the Elder Abuse Helpline and the QLS Find a Solicitor service for assistance.

With the support of the Australian Medical Association Queensland, we have produced materials and resources to help with this, and I am confident that this campaign will assist in providing positive outcomes for hundreds of older Australians who might otherwise have to endure the scourge of elder abuse in silence.

I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance of the QLS Elder Law Committee and Succession Law Committee in the delivery of this campaign, along with policy solicitor Vanessa Krulin, media manager Tony Keim and media adviser Melissa Raassina.

This week has been busy on the legislative front, and on Monday I appeared at parliamentary committee hearings into the Corrective Services (No Body, No Parole) Amendment Bill 2017 and the and the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017.

At QLS. we have 39 policy committees and five policy lawyers. Our submissions on these matters were overseen by the QLS Criminal Law Committee and subject matter experts.

The heart of good law is consultation with relevant stakeholders, and that is particularly valuable when the Society has subject matter experts and provides such submissions apolitically.

In regard to the ‘No Body, No Parole’ Bill, I told the parliamentary Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee that we understood the concerns that drove the preparation of the Bill, particularly in regard to the very human desire to retrieve, honour and properly grieve those whose lives have been lost, often in mysterious circumstances. Naturally, people imagine the suffering their loved one must have endured and so the return of their remains is an important step in the process of psychological healing.

However, I noted that we hold significant concerns on a number of practical issues that would not provide the relief needed by those aggrieved and could result in a compounding of a penalty. For example, we observed that there are potential circumstances that would make it impossible for an offender to provide accurate information about the location of a victim, not least of which was the possibility that the person convicted of the offence was, in fact, innocent.

Natural events, such as floods or heavy rain, could alter a body’s resting place, as would disposal of a victim’s body at sea.

We also expressed concern that the introduction of the ‘no body, no parole’ concept could eventually lead to its extension into areas such as those involving the theft of money or property. And we noted that, while cooperation of offenders in an investigation is important, that cooperation is not indicative of the threat an offender may pose to the community or linked to the other criteria essential for a parole decision.

At the same committee’s hearing on the Bill to expunge historical homosexual convictions, we noted that, while we fully supported the introduction of such a scheme, there were some concerns.

For example, we observed that the Bill’s clause 5 could effectively preclude an applicant from making a claim for compensation, even though they might otherwise be entitled to do so.

We said that the application process for expungement had the potential to be distressing, inconvenient and costly for applicants, and asked that further thought be given to whether certain classes of offences could be expunged automatically.

Also, we suggested that free and confidential support and legal assistance be made available to those wanting to apply for expungement of a charge or conviction, as is the case in some other states.

I would particularly like to thank immediate past president Bill Potts for his impassioned  submission on the homosexual conviction expungement Bill, and also thank policy solicitors to Natalie De Campo and Kate Brodnik for their work on our submissions for these Bills.

Thank you & acknowledgements

At QLS we have many people who contribute to our successes. We have some 120 people across all corners of our organisation quietly working away in the background to support the broader, more visible work of QLS. So this week I would like to thank of few of our quiet contributors. Thank you to Alexandre Dimitrov and Stephen Blair for ensuring that QLS guests are nourished with a good cup of tea on arrival! And thank you to Proctor editor John Teerds for his assistance in preparing my columns and updates.

Christine Smyth

QLS president