Admission of Practitioners Speech

Admission of practitioners to the Supreme Court of Tasmania

Speech by the Honourable Chief Justice Peter Underwood AO
Friday 20 August 2007

It is now my pleasant duty to extend to each of the newly admitted legal practitioners a very warm welcome to the legal profession. I sincerely hope that each of you derive deep satisfaction from the results of the hard study that you have put in over the last few years – study that has enabled you to be admitted as a legal practitioner of this Court. The order of admission to practise as a legal practitioner is not just a formal qualification that entitles each of you to get a job as a lawyer. Practising the law means much more than simply doing a job for money. The order of admission does not simply mark the end of a period of study. By solemn order of this Superior Court of Record each of you has become a member of the legal profession, a profession that has rightly been described as a group of men and women pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of a public service. From this concept that legal practitioners are men and women pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of a public service, stem the rules that prescribe the obligations of lawyers as citizens engaged in a privileged and protected profession. These rules, positive and negative are many and varied, but the reason for their origin, and the purpose of their application, are too ensure that the profession will make its proper contribution to the public good. The orders made today admit each of you to a privileged group. This privilege of being a lawyer carries with it an obligation to act in the spirit of public service for this spirit of public service is central to the well being of the legal profession, and a prerequisite to the sound administration of justice according to law. Membership of the legal profession imposes a duty on all of its members, including each of you, to formulate and maintain high standards of ethical conduct both with clients and with the Courts, for the public has a deep interest in having a highly ethical legal profession administering justice in a complex social and economic world.

In an article published in the last Tasmanian Law Society newsletter, a practitioner of this Court wrote that legal practitioners are no more than a sector of the service industry just as are plumbers, builders, doctors, architects and the like. He wrote that running a legal practice is the same as running any other business and that it is only by adherence to ancient ritual and quaint practices that lawyers maintain a false image that somehow there is something noble about being a legal practitioner. Whilst I respect this practitioners right to express his views, I say that those views are entirely misguided and erroneous. It is true that doctors, plumbers, carpenters and so on all have obligations to their clients just as do legal practitioners, but legal practitioners have a further and overriding duty and that is to the Court. It is not just an obligation or duty to act honestly, it is an obligation to uphold the law and to carry on the practice of a legal practitioner in the pursuit of justice according to law. The pursuit of no other profession, occupation or trade carries with it such an important overriding obligation.

The Chief Justice of Australia once said of our country “In a society committed to the rule of law, and organised as a federation, the role of the judiciary is to uphold and enforce the Constitution, resolve disputes between citizens, or between governments, or between citizens and governments, as to their legal rights and obligations and to administer criminal justice.” The judiciary would not be able to fulfil that fundamental role in our free democratic society without the assistance of an independent legal profession that has an obligation to the judiciary and the courts that transcends its duty to its clients. The pursuit of justice and the upholding of the rule of law is something that each of you has undertaken today and I commend you to attend to the duty that you have just assumed, regardless of the nature of your practice in the years to come.

Finally, I congratulate each of you on the success that you have achieved and which has culminated in the order of admission that has just been made. I am confident that all of you owe in part, that success to the support and encouragement given you by your family and friends, many of whom are here today and to them I also extend my congratulations.

The Court will adjourn.