Lawyers’ duty to the administration of justice undermined by Religious Discrimination Bill

3rd Dec 2021

If it becomes law, the Religious Discrimination Bill will allow lawyers to make statements of belief even when these comments could damage the reputation of the justice system, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“Currently legal practitioners can be disciplined if they make a public comment that could undermine the community’s confidence in the administration of justice,” said Mr Graham Droppert SC, National President, ALA.

“However, clause 15 of the Religious Discrimination Bill restricts professional bodies from being able to discipline a lawyer or barrister who makes such a comment if it is a statement of belief made in a personal capacity.

“For example, a senior legal practitioner could make a comment on social media that is highly critical of a judge’s decision and state that the decision is immoral and contrary to Christian teaching. The legal practitioner could then go further and suggest that the judge’s decision reflects a lack of morality in the legal system and even criticise the judge’s own character, stating that the judge will be subject to a higher judgement.

“Such a comment on social media, even in a personal capacity, could be considered to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice and breach our professional conduct rules. However, any disciplinary sanction for such a breach could not be pursued if clause 15 becomes law, as the comments could be considered a statement of belief made in a personal capacity.

“A lawyer’s paramount duty is to the court and the administration of justice. Any comments made by lawyers that undermine public confidence in the administration of justice are in breach of those duties. That duty should not be undermined by the ‘statement of belief’ provision in the Bill.

“It should always be possible for state and territory legal regulatory bodies to investigate and respond to breaches of professional conduct rules.”

Tags: Discrimination