Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A second opinion from a QC

There's a very interesting take on Simon Power's court reform suggestions by Robert Lithgow QC, on 9tN with Kathryn Ryan this morning. There's a good public interest angle on the role juries I hadn't been thinking about, in that citizen participation in civic process is important.

But what really donutted my deliberations was Lithgow's examination of Power's Lawyers' Rort suggestions. The minister's announcement on how lawyers are rorting the system perplexed me somewhat, as Legal Aid pays lawyers a measily $150 or so an hour. It may seem big beer for you and me, but in the usual lawyer rates it's rubbish. When the majority charge in 6 minute slices of billable time, fools, ambulance chasers and baby lawyers perform the bulk of Legal Aid cases.

However, Lithgow QC hints darkly at the role of crown prosecutors in the billables. Unlike Legal Aid, private law firms which perform prosecutorial jobs for the state pass largely below the political radar. It's these people who decide whether to bring a case to court, based on the police's evidence. Perhaps Power is preparing to yank the chain on the legal gravy train of frivolous prosecutions.

He could do worse than follow the plan laid out by the Law Commission's Delivering Justice For All script. If you're looking for a recession buster that uses a one shot wonder of cash for reform, courts is where I'd start. Split the district court into a Community, Criminal and Civil courts. Just leave the High Court alone. It doesn't need that much tinkering upsatirs.