The Voice within the Bar

Gabrielle Bashir SC

Every year, the Bar Association welcomes those who have passed their bar exams into the Bar Practice Course, under the guidance of the Bar Practice Course Director and the talented staff of the NSW Bar Association. The Course Director functions under the authority of the Council of the NSW Bar Association and works with the Professional Standards and Support Department and the Education Committee. I commence this message with profound thanks to Gillian Mahony of 8 Wentworth Chambers who has been the Bar Practice Course Director for eight years. This is an extraordinary commitment. During her time as Course Director, Gillian has demonstrated ongoing enthusiasm and dedication to the education of our newest members, even through the most challenging of times in the depth of lockdowns in the ongoing pandemic. The Bar Association is very fortunate to have had someone of Gillian's calibre and work ethic steering delivery of the course. Her leadership over the past eight years has inculcated new readers in upholding the highest standards of advocacy and ethical behaviour.

The latest bar exams were held in February at the Sydney Masonic Centre and currently, preparation is under way for the first Bar Practice Course of the year which commenced on 1 May 2023. The Bar Association recently announced the appointment by the Bar Council of Ralphed Notley, of University Chambers, to the position of incoming Bar Practice Course Director. Ralphed has a wealth of experience from assisting with the Bar Course as a presenter and advocacy coach. Gillian will remain Course Director until June 2023 to assist with the induction of Ralphed during the May 2023 Bar Practice Course. We welcome Ralphed to this distinguished role, which he assumed on 1 May 2023.

This year the regional conference series took place in Newcastle, Orange, Sydney, and Ballina. Each venue was well attended and allowed members to accumulate their Continuing Practice Development points in a collegiate environment, with each conference specialising in the common practice areas for each particular region. All members of the Executive enjoyed the opportunity to engage with our regional members. It was wonderful to see members from chambers that were badly impacted by the Northern Rivers floods in Lismore in attendance. The profound effects of the flooding in Lismore are explored in a discussion between Sophie Anderson and Kavita Balendra in this edition. During the floods we were in close contact with Sophie, who is our regional representative for the Northern Rivers area, and we maintain that connection. As emphasised in a recent President’s message, the conferences highlighted two areas of ethical responsibility for barristers, namely Rules 43 and 58 of the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015 (NSW) and how to manage and move further towards eliminating bullying conduct in the profession. The obligation to thoroughly prepare matters and to streamline issues so far as to what is reasonably necessary to protect the client’s interests at stake is one that can only enhance access to justice. Bullying is a matter of particular concern as was highlighted by the relatively high response rate in the practising certificate renewal survey last year. I encourage all practising barristers to engage with the survey to ensure we have some insight into whether there has been progress in this area over the last year. The Bar will continue to educate and communicate to drive and support cultural change in this area and those of harassment and discrimination in the profession.

There has been a high uptake of the updated Best Practice Guidelines (BPGs) and I thank chambers for engaging in the manner that was intended, given the varying working relationships in each and every chambers. Since their launch, there have been relevant amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Barristers are ‘workers’ and persons conducting a business or undertaking as defined in relevant legislative provisions and are affected by these recent changes. Barristers and chambers who fail to heed the guidance in the updated BPGs and these additional amendments do so at their own peril, given positive workplace obligations explored in this issue by Penny Thew in conjunction with Bruce Hodgkinson AM SC, Yaseen Shariff SC and Maurice Baroni.

I have had the honour to host and attend many wonderful events this quarter. The Experienced Barristers Program returned this year and acknowledged our members who had dedicated more than fifty years of practice at the NSW Bar. Those honoured were universally grateful for the acknowledgement. Many lamented the passing of their peers over the years and more recently, we have sadly lost further barristers of long-standing. This important initiative of our Wellbeing Committee emphasises the Bar’s strenuous support of all members in every stage of their practice. Justices Jackman and Meek were recently honoured at 15 Bobbers before a full house. We are looking forward to the Bar and Bench dinner on 12 May 2023 – a highlight of the calendar of collegiate events which sold out in record time.

Events at the bar are not all social. In March, the Practice Development Committee held an ATO direct briefing event involving panel firms and ATO officers that targeted barristers practising for two to seven years. All attendees praised the event and further opportunities were offered in a new and improved format to develop this as a practice area for junior counsel in the cohort.

Committee meetings have proceeded both in person and in hybrid format and we have finally sourced some technological improvements to enhance interactions in hybrid meetings.

Professional Conduct

The Professional Conduct and Certification teams are busy processing the annual applications for renewal of practising certificates. This is the biggest project run in the Bar Association each year and significant planning is required to ensure that the online renewal platform runs smoothly for the over 2,400 practising barristers in New South Wales. A key change to the monitoring of compliance with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) has been made in the system this year, with the automatic upload of Bar Association seminars attended by barristers. It is hoped that this will assist barristers to ensure they have complied with the CPD Rules and assist with record keeping.

The team currently have eighty-two matters under assessment or investigation, related to competence, compliance, costs and ethics. Since 1 July 2022, the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner has referred fifty complaints to the Bar Council for consideration. In the same period the Bar Council has finalised fifty-three complaints. New guidelines for complaints have been developed with the assistance of the Professional Conduct Committee Chairs and released to all members of Professional Conduct Committees. Significant thought and effort have gone into the new guidelines which seek to streamline practices without compromising procedural fairness or the high quality of investigations and reports.

The Bar Council continues to provide feedback on proposed changes to the Legal Profession Uniform Law regime, including the suite of proposed amendments that are known as the First Priority Amendments to the Legal Profession Uniform Law, which remain under consideration by the Legal Services Council. The Legal Services Council is also currently undertaking a review of the Costs Disclosure Thresholds. An initial consultation meeting was held late last year and we await an invitation to provide more detailed submissions on the issues identified by the Legal Services Council as areas of focus for the review.

Policy Law Reform

The Bar Association brought in the new year with a number of significant policy initiatives and law reform submissions. The Bar Association has supported the Uluru Statement from the Heart since its release on 26 May 2017. In February, the Association co-hosted the ‘Exchanging Ideas’ symposium with the Ngara Yura Committee of the Judicial Commission of NSW and the Law Society of NSW. The symposium featured addresses by the Honourable Robert French AC, the Commonwealth Attorney-General the Honourable Mark Dreyfus KC MP, Professor Megan Davis and Dr Tony McAvoy SC, examining First Nations consensus in constitutional reform, nation building and treaty making processes. This issue has several articles on the Voice, including a snapshot of the paper delivered by former Chief Justice French at the symposium. The Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 was introduced to Parliament at the end of March. On 6 April 2023 the Bar Council met to consider both the wording of the proposed Constitution alteration and the policy position that the NSW Bar should adopt, if any, in relation to the proposal to enshrine the Voice in the Australian Constitution.

The Bar Council has consulted with many pre-eminent constitutional law senior counsel who practise from NSW in its consideration of the important question of the wording of the amendment. The Bar Council considered and unanimously rejected alternative models proposed publicly including mere symbolic recognition, models limited to the ‘race power’ or ‘special laws’ in s 51 of the Constitution, those removing the Executive from the second limb and removing the second limb entirely. The annual ‘Closing the Gap’ reports make abundantly clear that our national (and state) laws which are not enacted as ‘special laws’ can and do disproportionately impact First Nations peoples. The model for a Voice to both parliament and the government, which cannot be abolished by legislation, and allows representations on proposed legislation, regulations and matters of policy that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was also closely considered. The Bar Council voted unanimously to endorse the proposed wording for the Constitution alteration to enshrine a First Nations Voice as sound and appropriate, and to support public advocacy in support of a ‘Yes’ vote for this substantive form of Constitutional recognition.

NSW barristers have advocated for decades on issues of concern to all Australians that have particular impact on First Nations people, including in the Royal Commission in relation to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and implementation of its recommendations, the Pathways to Justice Report of the Australian Law Reform Commission, national legal service funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, reforms on heritage protection, and native title laws. The Bar Association will advocate in support of this historically important reform.

The Bar Council has also recently approved a revitalised First Nations Mentoring Program which for the first time, will offer mentoring opportunities to First Nations solicitors as well as law students. I urge members to consider mentoring opportunities which this program provides. More information about this initiative will be circulated in InBrief.

The Association has provided input to the Law Council of Australia on a preferred model and key features of a Federal Judicial Commission, in which we highlighted the Judicial Commission of NSW as an appropriate model for replication at the Commonwealth level.

Other notable policy submissions this year have included:

• A submission to the Commonwealth Treasury in response to its Climate-related Financial Disclosure Consultation Paper, informed by the expertise of our Climate Change Committee;

• A submission to a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Addressing Australia’s Illicit Drug Problem, which advocated for the decriminalisation of use and possession for personal use of prohibited drugs and reiterated the Association’s support for the recommendations of the NSW Ice Inquiry; and

• Input to an LCA submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws.

I take this opportunity to thank the approximately 316 committee members who have tirelessly volunteered their time and expertise over the last year to contribute to the invaluable work of the Bar Association, and the exceptional staff at the NSW Bar Association under the leadership of our CEO Andreas Heger. BN

Gabrielle Bashir SC

Forbes Chambers