Friday 14 July 2017, Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Gold Coast
President’s dinner speech
“The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers!”
Good evening – are you all having a good night so far?
Thank you for having me tonight – I look forward to chatting with you later and am keen to see you all kicking up your heels later on. But for now let me explain my opening statement.
To a crowded Supreme Court earlier this year I gave a speech opening with that line: “The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers.” Just like you today, I witnessed gasps from the bench infused with the query: where is she going with this?
It is a quote from Shakespeare in his play Henry V – he was dramatically identifying that for chaos to reign you must rid society of all the lawyers. Flipped on its head he was telling us that for there to be a just and equitable society, lawyers are essential.
The integrity of our legal system – and therefore the faith the public have in that system – is inextricably linked to the integrity of lawyers.
It is not commonly understood that in Australia a lawyer’s first and foremost duty is to the Court – not the client. The reality of a lawyer is that what we do is much more than a job or a business.
To hold the position of an officer of the Court we must first prove that we are ‘fit and proper’ to hold such an office to be admitted to the roll of legal practitioners.
For this reason, lawyers have a duty to encourage public confidence in their profession – you may see that this year I have spoken to the media on various high-profile stories explaining the law and ensuring members of the public understand that our justice system works.
To encourage this confidence, we must all do our part to maintain the highest of ethical standards while always acting first to the Court but also acting in the best interests of the client and the wider community.
Our profession carries the responsibility to be the face of the law. The part of the justice system that members of the public interact with through the process of the law.
Our responsibility is one where confidence in the system starts or stops with us.
Indeed, in a recent speech by her Honour Chief Justice Catherine Holmes, she noted:
“The judiciary, as we all appreciate, is an arm of government, but the functioning of the court in turn depends on its officers and their observation of the obligations which they assume as legal practitioners. Judges are in no position to make their own inquiries, to ascertain the facts except through what is presented to them. Without our being able to rely on your integrity and honesty in doing so, the administration of justice would become unworkable. The independence of the courts, which is critical in a democracy, requires also the underpinning of a profession independent from the expectations of clients and the aims of the executive.”
That means that if lawyers do not behave ethically, the courts cannot behave ethically.
That is the burden lawyers carry, and it is something we take very seriously.
It is the reason our fundamental duty is to the court and the administration of justice; it is nothing short of a duty to uphold the law. If we fail, the law fails, and if the law fails chaos reigns.
Nevertheless, it is important that we solicitors pause from time to time to take stock of our valuable contribution to the fundamental fabric of our society – the rule of law.
To do so keeps us invigorated and motivated, when the howling winds of criticism, and the torrents of derision buffet our resolve.
We must celebrate that of which we are proud – that we are a force for good, that we do good in society and that it is OK to be proud of that.
We serve and sustain the community.
So I call on you to lift your heads up, pull your shoulders back and stand proud, because you know what you do matters – and so does everybody else.
Tonight is a time to unwind ahead of tomorrow’s sessions and catch up with old friends.
You can also meet some new friends if the old ones aren’t quite to your liking.
Although, we have some fantastic people in the room, as most of those who practise in areas such as family law tend to be.
Although our jobs are often time consuming, complex and often emotionally taxing, we can still have a drink, a laugh and some relaxation at the end of the day.