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Law Council applauds plans for federal corruption watchdog

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has welcomed the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission and the Federal Government’s release of its exposure draft legislation.

Law Council President Pauline Wright, in a statement released yesterday, said the exposure draft followed the model proposed by the Government in 2018, creating a centralised, specialist centre for the investigation of corruption in the public sector by forming two separate divisions.

“One to oversee law enforcement bodies and the other to oversee the public sector more broadly,” she said. “Two Deputy Commissioners (one for each of the proposed divisions) would be established under the proposal, alongside the lead Integrity Commissioner.

“Under the proposed model, conduct that will be deemed to be corrupt will differ depending on whether it is engaged in by members of law enforcement agencies or members of public sector agencies.”

Queensland Law Society, in its 2019 federal Call to Parties document, lobbied strongly for the establishment of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

The Society said the commission was needed to address allegations of corruption at a federal level.

“(QLS) calls for a commitment that the appointment of the Chair and CEO for the (commission) have bipartisan support and that (it) report to a discrete committee of the Commonwealth Parliament,” it said.

The Law Council has previously argued the same conduct that is deemed corrupt in one context should be deemed corrupt in the other.

“There should be an alignment of powers between the divisions and the same broad definition of ‘corrupt conduct’ should apply,” Ms Wright said. “The Law Council supports the exclusion in the exposure draft of federal judges from the operation of the proposed CIC and believes that there should be a separate federal judicial commission established to investigate complaints of corrupt conduct by members of the federal judiciary, consistently with maintaining the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.”

Ms Wright said the LCA looked forward to working with the Government on the proposal.

“Further scrutiny of the exposure draft will be needed to gauge the extent to which the staff of federal judicial officers and other staff who perform functions of the courts (such as court registrars) fall within the draft legislation, and how any such proposal will be consistent with the doctrine of separation of powers.

“The exposure draft proposes that hearings relating to public sector corruption issues are to be held in private, while there is the potential for public hearings relating to law enforcement corruption issues.”

Ms Wright said the LCA considered that, while hearings should generally be conducted in private, there should be some discretion over whether to conduct hearings in public if it was in the public interest to do so, or where a closed hearing would be unfair to the person subject to the investigation.

“The proposed model provides the Integrity Commission with substantial investigatory and coercive powers,” she said. “The Law Council will be closely scrutinising the adequacy of safeguards in the exposure draft to prevent the arbitrary use of such powers, particularly as they relate to well-established principles such as the privilege against self-incrimination and the importance of maintaining the integrity of client legal privilege.”

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