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Bar Talk
3 November, 2008  
The rank 'n' file are revolting

Grumbling in the ranks sees the emergence of a “reform” agenda for the NSW bar’s AGM later this month. The trouble is, the proposed motions, even if passed, will change nothing

imageIt’s hard to work out the logic of the notice of the motions flying around the NSW bar ‘n’ grill for consideration at the AGM on November 14.

A ginger group of signatories, including Brian Rayment, Bill Priestley, Tom Molomby, Sharron Norton, Charles Newlinds and David Smallbone, are proposing four motions – dealing with professional conduct, one year terms for office bearers and a zusched up PR effort to put a bit of sparkle on the image of barristers and the bar.

1. “In the opinion of the association”, barristers should not have to answer complaints about professional conduct until particulars are supplied that are capable of amounting to a reasonable charge of professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct, and which specify the elements relied on in the complaint;

2. “In the opinion of the association” before a barrister is notified of any professional conduct complaint, the bar council should first check out whether the matter concerns the barrister’s conduct in current proceedings and, if so, why the complaint is being made now, instead of later when the case is over.

3. “The association requests” the bar council to prepare for a special general meeting a proposal to amend the bar’s constitution to reduce the limit on office bearers’ current terms from two years to one year.

4. “The association requests” the incoming council to make renewed efforts at “active, effective and forthright” media relations so as to improve the public’s understanding of “the beneficial role of barristers” and of the independent bar.

See full text of proposed motions.

How many times have we heard the rumble of dissatisfaction from the rank and file at election time? Yet, these proposed motions won’t fix anything.

To start, the Legal Profession Act lays out the process for the handling of disciplinary matters, regardless of “the opinion of the Bar Association”.

The Legal Services Commissioner has a say in how complaints are handled and the final word on whether they proceed or are dismissed.

In any event, a softly, softly approach to disciplinary matters won’t exactly assist in “improving the public’s understanding and acceptance of the beneficial role of barristers”.

Rather, it might confirm the perception of the great unwashed that this is a privileged and protected species.

In the final analysis, “forthright” media relations doesn’t necessarily translate into improving the public’s appreciation of the worthwhile place the bar occupies in the firmament.

It all seems rather misconceived.

Then there’s the proposal to amend the constitution so as to limit office bearers to one year terms.

Maybe the motion is not aimed at Katzmann.

If it is aimed at getting rid of her as president, then it goes nowhere. Should the motion succeeds at the AGM it can only be prospective.

So in the likely event that Katzmann is returned to the council at the election she’ll have another year as president – regardless of any discontent.

Article 13.2 of the constitution says that office bearers only hold office from one election to the next. The only office bearer who is restricted to a two year (consecutive) limit is the president.

The grumbling about the current president has not been specified, which is exactly the gripe that the supporters of the proposed motions level at the way professional conduct complaints are handled.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Wayne Cooper
Date: November 3, 2008, 7:00 pm

The Bar Association is miles behind the Law Society in media relations. How could you comapre Katzperson with Hugh Macken as a media performer? And the Law Society didn't have a treasurer resign half-way through the year either. This has been a disasterous period for the Bar and a sclerotic, irrelevant, remote administration is of little assistance.
Posted by: David Patch
Date: November 8, 2008, 12:12 am

I think Cooper's nasty and intemperate rant is quite unfair, and wrong: 1. Anna Katzmann has been articulate, presentable and effective in her media comments. 2. The Treasurer did resign half-way through the year - but those who know the circumstances also know that it did not reflect adversely on Katzmann at all. 3. The assertion that "this has been a disasterous (sic) period for the Bar" is nonsense. 4. The fact that Cooper uses a series of somewhat colourful adjectives to describe the current leadership of the Bar doesn't mean that there is any substance in what he says - on the contrary, in my experience and personal observation, the communication and consultation undertaken by the Bar with its members over the last year has been regular and comprehensive. Next time, before Cooper clicks the "Send Comment" button at midnight on Melbourne Cup day, he should take a deep breath and wait until the morning.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 12, 2008, 12:06 am

Dear Patch, Just how does AK compare to HM as a media performer? That was the comment on AK. Perhaps before pressing the "send" button at 5.12 am on the tail end of an obviously long Friday night next time you might explain just what "the circumstances" were leading to the Treasurer upping stumps, rather than keeping the good news to yourself.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 17, 2008, 6:51 pm

Dear Anonymous, If you are writing at 5.06am there is a risk that people might think its a case of "the pot calling the kettle black". Best to stay back after work and do it at 7.30 at night (like me)... that way you know no one's going to be a critic!
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 20, 2008, 1:24 am

Anonymous no:2 - your post actually says 11:51pm I think a united approach is much better. Solicitors bad mouthing barristers does not help, nor the other way around - just my 2 cents worth.