Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Best Lawyers Breakfast, which celebrates the achievements of QLS members named on the Best Lawyers, Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30, Chambers and Legal 500 lists. The event allowed us to recognise those members who have been rated at the top of their game by their peers.
It was a great chance to speak to and with our members, and also to listen. An excellent keynote speech was given by Jemima Harris, Director of LOD Innovation and a member of the QLS In-House Counsel Committee. I would like to publicly thank Jemima for giving up her time for us on the day. I am always inspired by the fact that our members are prepared to put in so much work for our Society!
I was also inspired by the sheer quality of the lawyers in the room, and of our state-wide members. It made me proud to see all that talent in our profession.
It also made me think of the comments of Chief Judge O’Brien in the District Court 2017–18 Annual Report, where his honour noted:
"In previous reports I have called for the appointment of additional judges to this court. During the year the Queensland Law Society called for the appointment of at least five additional District Court judges. It is pleasing to note the announcement by the Honourable the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General that in 2018–19 there will be an additional judge appointed but the addition of one judge should not be regarded as adequate to address the growing demands placed upon the resources of the court. According to the most recent RoGS Report, Queensland has fewer District Court judges per head of population than any other Australian State and the backlog of cases will continue to grow if the need for additional judicial and court resources is not addressed."
Words of wisdom—I both echo them and marry them to that room full of talent that so inspired me at the Best Lawyers Breakfast. Many solicitors there that day would shine on the benches of the District and Supreme Courts, but I observe some reluctance on the part of this government to appoint judges from the solicitor’s ranks. I hope very much that this does not continue—that we soon see some of these worthy solicitors finding their way onto the District and Supreme Courts—adding their wisdom to our judicial process.
The success of solicitors appointed to the bench cannot be denied. Appointees such as Judge Rinaudo and Justices Lyons and Thomas are among the leading lights of our profession. I urge the Attorney-General to cast a wider net when appointing our judges because many wonderful candidates will be denied if she looks only to the Bar.
One of the great privileges and obligations of my role is to be able to conduct advocacy on behalf of our members in parliamentary committee hearings and the like. It has been a busy week in that regard. The QLS delegation of Damien Bartholomew, Binny De Saram and I made forceful and fulsome submissions at the Public Hearing for the Inquiry into the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill.
We advocated strongly to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. I was happy to quote the Chief Justice of the Northern Territory, His Honour Justice Grant, who had expressed the issue as well as it can be:
"…that instead of the three-yearly law and order justice discussions that we have as elections approach in deciding who is toughest on crime, what is necessary is a 50–year program. That is, a program designed to effectively rescue and prevent our children over a lengthy period of time, lest they be effectively consigned intergenerationally to the dark Satanic Mills, in essence which is our youth justice system."
Those are strong words, but necessary ones in my view. Our system can condemn children (and often Indigenous children) to an incarcerated future—something we must strive to avoid. I attempted to impress upon the committee that current practices weren’t working, and to continue to follow them was simply foolish:
"If we just simply lurch from side to side in a law and order battle to see who is the toughest on crime, if we institute penalties which are higher and higher because we think foolishly—and I use that word deliberately—that that is somehow going to prevent crime because we think that if children are aware of higher penalties that is going to stop them. It does not.
"We know the youth justice system is both expensive and not working. If we start with those two principles, look at the root causes, look to see what international solutions have been useful, then that is in my view both a socially and morally appropriate view for this parliament to take. I would urge some consideration of that program."
I believe QLS has succinctly identified the problem and provided the solution. I am certain that the committee gave us a fair hearing and heard our voice—I hope that it will follow our guidance. We have shown leadership on this issue. Now we will see if our State Government will take inspiration from our stance and adopt real solutions to these complex problems.
Anyway, on to rosier musings, in particular the launch of our Aspire Leadership Lecture Series this Wednesday. The lecture has reached capacity and I am very much looking forward to hearing Isabelle Reinecke, the Executive Director and Founder of Grata Fund, speak about leadership and pass on what she has learned.
Looking further ahead I note that the Solicitor Advocates Course—the first step in what will be, for some, a path that leads to that talented bench of which I have already written—will be coming up in August. If you are keen to be a part of it, don’t delay. These courses sell out fast!
I will close by noting that we have just had International Tartan Day. In recognition thereof I will simply say beannachd leat!
Bill Potts, QLS President