President of The Law Society of NSW Doug Humphreys OAM, 'The Opening of Law Term 2018' (Speech delivered at the Opening of Law Term 2018 Dinner, Strangers’ Dining Room, Parliament of NSW, 31 January, 2018).

Members of the clergy, judiciary, parliamentarians, distinguished guests, family and friends: good evening.

First, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I thank the Chief Justice for his erudite speech. We are honoured to have this opportunity to have you present, Chief Justice, but also to have you provide your views on matters of significance to the legal profession.

I acknowledge Pauline Wright, Immediate Past President of the Law Society of New South Wales, and thank Pauline for her work in 2017. I have some big stilettos to fill.

I also thank my family, friends, colleagues and former workmates for being present this evening.

The Opening of Law Term is very traditional in nature.

In 1893 it was written:

"The opening of the law term, whereat the judges of the Supreme Court sat broiling, arrayed in flaming robes of scarlet and in full-bottomed wigs that looked as if they weighed half-a-hundred-weight a-piece. The due administration of justice gains nothing by this slavish adherence to the sumptuary regulations of the Middle Ages."

The Opening of Law Term today remains a traditional event.

But it is also an event that looks to the future. It is also an event that gives me a valuable opportunity to outline the year ahead.

I am both humbled and proud to stand before you as the President of the Law Society of New South Wales for 2018.

I recognise the enormous trust placed in me by the Council of the Law Society and the wider profession.

I will build upon the successes of the past, with new initiatives to promote the interests of all solicitors in New South Wales.

As a young man who came from Bathurst in 1976, to study law at University, I never imagined rising to such a position.

Indeed my eldest sister reminded me recently, that my father - who left school at 15 to become a tyre retreader, before going on to serve as a World War II solider, a volunteer firefighter and a farmer – suggested to me at one stage that I might be punching above my weight wanting to be a solicitor!

The law as a profession has been good to me.

After completing a combined Law/Commerce degree at the University of New South Wales, I was admitted in July 1981, and immediately commenced work in a small city private practice as a litigation solicitor.

The firm did a lot of assigned, legally aided superior, court trial matters. As an instructing solicitor, I was fortunate to see many different styles of advocacy by counsel. I formed a view as to the style that would work best for me.

In 1984, I joined what was then the Public Solicitor’s Office, now Legal Aid NSW, as a Local Court Duty Solicitor. It was great work for a still young advocate. 

I fondly remember working at Waverly Local Court, when it was the custody court for most of the city, the eastern suburbs and Kings Cross. I always had some exciting tale to tell at the end of the day. Of course, I only represented the better class of criminal from Kings Cross.

From there I went to the newly formed Mental Health Advocacy Service. My three years of life experience there, exposed me to many of the problems people with mental illnesses face.

This has remained with me and has been valuable to me throughout my career, even to the present day.

I spent a period at the Central Local Court, as a senior duty solicitor. I was privileged to work with Chrissa Loukas SC. Following that period I went to the District Court Appeals Section, then as Solicitor in Charge of the Indictable Section. I found myself back doing superior court trials and working with that great asset we have in NSW, The Public Defenders.

In 1994, I was appointed as the Director of the Criminal Law Branch, leading more than 160 professional and support staff with an annual budget of then $50 million. It was a privilege leading a group of highly skilled and dedicated staff.

In 2003, I was appointed as the Principal Registrar of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

This was an exciting time, leading the registry and corporate functions of the senior Commonwealth merits review tribunal.

Garry Downes, the then President of the AAT, taught me an enormous amount about administrative law and decision writing.

Finally, and perhaps somewhat unusually, my last position was as Principal Member, or jurisdiction head, of the Veteran’s Review Board.

This is a high-volume specialist merits review tribunal, whose jurisdiction covers Commonwealth repatriation benefits.

While I am not the first President of the Society to have a government background, I believe I am certainly the first with the varied background outlined above.

During all of this, I have also served as a soldier and then a commissioned officer in the Australian Army Reserve.

I have no doubt the training and experience I gained in leadership roles as a young non-commissioned officer and then as an officer contributed to my success in my civil career.

Although I no longer run up hills with a rifle and bayonet, I am privileged to continue to serve as an Australian Army Legal Corps officer.

The leadership role I now undertake as President of this great Law Society, is for me an opportunity to pay back the profession some of what the profession has done for me.

With more than 29,000 members, the Law Society of NSW is proudly one of the largest and strongest direct membership legal associations in the world. We unite to serve all segments of the legal profession; from those in private practice, as sole practitioners or partners or in small or large firms - to lawyers working in government and corporate roles. We extend from the city to the bush.

Our capacity to regulate and discipline our own is something I judge to be of the utmost importance.

It is also important to state at the outset what the Law Society stands for. We are a voluntary, membership-based professional association of solicitors.

We advocate for and on behalf of the profession, in every area and mode of practice.

As lawyers, we stand for the rule of law in all of its aspects; the separation of powers; access to justice; and the independence of the courts and judiciary.

We also stand for the right of the legal profession to practice law without undue government interference and regulation.

We stand for the right of lawyers to be able to make a reasonable living as trusted advisors to their clients.

The Law Society’s significant achievements are varied and many.

The Society has been instrumental in unifying the legal services market and regulatory system in Australia through national legal profession reform.

Its recent policy achievements extend from business, corporate and taxation law to criminal, family, property, human rights and personal injury law.

There is still much to be achieved in advancing our representational efforts.

Our policy agenda this year will continue to be diverse and full, reflecting the priorities of all segments of the legal profession.

Now, something which is popular in organisations today is to have a ‘mission statement’ to guide the activities of an organisation in a given period of time.

If I had a personal ‘mission statement’ or commitment for my year as President, it would be as follows:

To always remember that leadership is about service, membership is about value, and that the practice of the law is fundamentally about delivering justice.

The major projects I have planned for this year will not be surprising given my background.

One of our key priorities will be advocating for the enhanced resourcing of the Local Courts.

I say this in full knowledge that the Local Court is the place within which the vast majority of criminal justice is dispensed within our justice system.

We will also advocate for the proper resourcing of Legal Aid, which plays a critical role in facilitating access to justice.

We will advocate for a more transparent system, than perhaps exists, in relation to appointments to Tribunals.

Particularly at Commonwealth level, where in the recent past the system of appointments has been very opaque.

There has been some recent criticism that appointments to the bench and the Tribunals, in other states and at Commonwealth level, have become political in nature.

Whether this is true or not, the mere fact that it is suggested, does not support the fundamental concept of the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Tribunals play an increasingly important role in ensuring the rights of citizens.

Tribunals must not only be independent of Government, they must be seen to be independent of Government.

We will advocate for the appointment of solicitors to the superior courts. Diversity of appointments is vital if the courts are to represent the community. This includes not only gender and ethnic background, but mode of practice as well.

The Society is planning to revitalise many services to assist all solicitors. This is being done with the acute awareness of the challenges confronting the viability of practice. We will investigate ways to reinvigorate the role of the Solicitors’ Benevolent Fund and bolster its resources. The Law Society must be equipped to support its own in times of need.

Of course, we will continue a raft of other important projects, established by my predecessors.

The Law Society will continue with our Advancement of Women project. We will continue to roll out our Charter for the Advancement of Women. The Charter aims to advance more women to senior roles within firms, and other organisations. We will do this through our career transition support and mentoring services.

And 2018 is of course a landmark year as we recognise 100 years since the enactment of the Women's Legal Status Act 1918 (NSW), which enabled women to practise law and stand for parliament in New South Wales.

Whilst commemorating the past, we recognise that our members are grappling with new ways of working in a fast-changing, tech-driven future. The Law Society will continue down the path of implementing the recommendations of our landmark Report into the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession.

We will seek new ways to apply the findings of our Indigenous justice projects, bearing in mind the shameful numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people incarcerated in both New South Wales and Australia.

Crucially, we will challenge whether the NSW public are getting value for money by incarcerating the number of people that we are.

The fact is, by incarcerating a person, we forego the opportunity to employ an additional teacher, or a paramedic, or a nurse or a fire-fighter. Surely, we as a society would much prefer to spend money on those resources, if we can find ways to properly reduce prison numbers.

It is right to expect that the guilt or innocence of those charged with criminal offences will be adjudicated swiftly and fairly.

We need to look more carefully at alternatives to imprisonment and to reduce the numbers of people on remand in order to bring down the high overall prison numbers.

We recognise the recent reforms of the NSW Government, in terms of funding superior courts to reduce trial waiting times in the District Court. However, there is still much more work to be done. This includes the rapid build of a multi-court complex in the South West Sydney area.

In pursuing these projects, I trust that you will join with me in bearing the standard under which we all labour as solicitors and members of this great Law Society: omnium jura defendimus, defending the rights of all.

One of my great privileges as President is that I can choose a charity to be supported throughout the year. The charity I have chosen as the Presidential Charity for 2018 is The Butterfly Foundation.

Butterfly is the leading voice for those affected by eating disorders and negative body image.

This is a complex and challenging mental illness that touches the lives of many people around us, whether our family members, friends or colleagues.

The Butterfly Foundation advocates both for them and their loved ones.

Eating disorders are often a private affliction, and therefore those grappling with it in this way are hindered from accessing help because of the shame of social stigma.

In comparison to the general population, mortality rates are almost twice as high for people with eating disorders. Indeed, this rises to a mortality rate of 20 per cent for people with anorexia.

Comorbidity is also high, with reports of up to 97 per cent having a comorbid condition. These are most commonly depression and anxiety disorders, followed by substance abuse and personality disorders.

Butterfly operates a National Eating Disorders Support Service that is staffed by trained and experienced counsellors.

It also runs treatment and early intervention programs, including positive body image workshops in schools across the country.

The Law Society will direct all of our charitable energies towards this cause in 2018.

I invite you to join with me as solicitors of this State to show your own support, and give generously to our fundraising efforts.

Lastly, let me finish by acknowledging and thanking the most important person in my life: my partner Maine.

Maine and I have been married for 37 years and together for about 40.

She has encouraged me, put up with me, brought two beautiful daughters into our world and has always been there for me during our time together.

This year, she will once more have to put up with me spending considerable time away from home, just as she has had to for the past 15 years.

Maine, without you, none of what I have achieved would have been possible.

Thank you all for listening tonight.

Media Contacts

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