Sunday, October 01, 2006

Victorian Entry Requirements To Change

Entry requirements for legal practitioners vary between states, with Victoria maintaining a system of ‘articled clerkships’, a system which has been the subject of intense criticism.

The Fin Review reported on 29 September 2006 that the Victorian system may well be overhauled as early as 2008. Under the new system, Victoria will adopt an approach similar to that used in Queensland. Admitting solicitors will enter into traineeship arrangements for some 12 months, which will combine work experience and compulsory training.

Any graduate unable to secure a traineeship will still be able to qualify by attending a practical legal training course, usually offered by a university law school.

The changes are designed to bring Victoria in line with a proposed streamlined national profession. The system of articled clerkships is believed to be an impediment to this as standards of training vary between different clerkships.

In smaller firms, clerks are typically lumped with a range of files from a broad range of practise areas. Larger firms frequently only expose clerks to limited specialised areas.

Under the new scheme, all forms taking on trainees will be required to provide experience in civil litigation, corporate law and property law. Firms will also be required to fund trainees attending courses in ethics and lawyers’ skills.

Existing barristers and solicitors may be required to attend an extra hour of compulsory CLE in ethics and professional responsibility.

The problem with new traineeships is that they might prove too expensive for smaller firms to carry out as they may not be able to afford the costs of external training in lawyers’ skills and ethics. One would hope that principals should be able to teach their junior staff the basic skills of lawyering – interviewing clients, taking file notes, arranging different kinds of files and maintaining trust accounts. Where a practice doesn’t keep a trust account, they might be able to make arrangements with another firm to provide training.

The proposed changes have received in-principle support from the Victorian Attorney-General.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Visit to Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission

Recently I visited Malaysia on an exchange program organised by the Australia-Malaysia Institute, an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT).

That visit included meetings with a variety of political, cultural and religious groups and institutions. Our first visit was on held on the morning of Monday 19 June 2006 to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (known under the Bahasa Malay acronym of SUHAKAM).

My notes of the visit included information provided by SUHAKAM Commissioners and staff. This may be summarised as follows:

[01] We were first taken through a presentation of SUHAKAM’s objects by SUHAKAM’s head of Policy & Research. We were then briefed by a number of SUHAKAM Commissioners, including Dato’ Siva Subramaniam from Malaysia’s minority Indian community.

[02] SUHAKAM was founded by a 1999 Act of the Malaysian Federal Parliament as a statutory body. It plays a variety of roles, including education on human rights issues and advising the government and parliament on the human rights implications of Bills. Many (if not most) SUHAKAM staff have legal backgrounds.

[03] SUHAKAM does not have powers of execution. It can only recommend changes to legislation or regulations. It cannot enforce its decisions. It does, however, have substantial powers to hold inquiries. This includes the power to summons law enforcement and government officials.

[04] SUHAKAM receives referrals from NGO’s and from walk-in clients. It often finds itself having to turn people away whose matters do not come within its limited terms of reference. Within these terms, SUHAKAM is largely free to set its own agenda.

[05] It often proves difficult to promote human rights principles in a country which has signed itself up for so few international human rights treaties. The complications are compounded by the complex nature of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

[06] SUHAKAM must deal with many human rights issues facing indigenous communities in Sarawak and Sabah. These include land rights, housing and education. There is some provision in Sabah for courts to enforce indigenous customary law.

[07] Among SUHAKAM’s educational activities are: the production of school books on human rights which are now part of the state school curriculum, as well as leadership programs to instil human rights values in older students.

[08] SUHAKAM is publicly opposed to the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for extra-judicial detention without meaningful judicial oversight. Much of SUHAKAM’s work involves highlighting the excesses arising from the implementation of ISA.

[09] SUHAKAM has been asked to oversee the conduct of campus elections.

[10] SUHAKAM officials are concerned about the anti-terror laws in Australia and their possible impact on Muslim communities. However, of greater concern to them is the treatment of indigenous peoples.

[11] SUHAKAM also investigates mistreatment of foreign workers including Indonesians, Pakistanis and Filipinos. It also deals with cased involving attempts to tear down houses of worship (including mosques) by roads and other infrastructure/planning authorities. Generally, such cases involve houses of worship built without proper planning approvals obtained.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006