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Media Release - Complaints against lawyers (10 August 2001)

A better system for dealing with complaints against lawyers is the aim of a report released today by the NSW Law Reform Commission.

The Law Reform Commission was asked by the NSW Attorney General to review the system after the High Court described parts of the governing legislation as unworkable and overly technical, blaming this for unacceptable delays in some cases. Legal consumers and key institutions, the Law Society, the Bar Association and the Legal Services Commissioner have also criticised the system.

The Legal Services Commissioner, an independent statutory officer, currently receives about 3,000 complaints a year. The majority of these are referred to the Law Society and Bar Council.

Report 99[PDF, 699Kb] makes 40 recommendations for improving the procedures for dealing with complaints against lawyers.

'The Report deals with concerns that some complaints are not being properly dealt with because of the way some investigations have been conducted and because of technicalities in the legislation' said Justice Michael Adams, Chair of the Law Reform Commission. 'The community needs a fair, credible and effective complaints and disciplinary system for lawyers'.

The Commission has recommended:

  • the strengthening of the Legal Services Commissioner's powers including giving the Legal Services Commissioner powers of entry, search and seizure without notice;
  • increasing the accountability of the profession by the creation of a public register to record findings of misconduct against lawyers and by requiring the reporting of any offences uncovered during the course of an investigation into a lawyer;

  • changes to the composition of the Legal Services Division of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal so that it is no longer lawyer-dominated;

  • making hearings before the Tribunal open to the public, except in special circumstances; and

  • a streamlining of the procedures for appealing decisions of the Tribunal and a greater role for the Supreme Court as the ultimate supervisor of the profession.

Media contacts:

Justice Adams, Chairperson - (02) 9230 8737

Joseph Waugh, Legal Officer - (02) 9228 8230