A highlight of last week’s Legal Profession Dinner was the presentation of the Queensland Law Society President’s Medal to leading criminal defence lawyer and civil libertarian Terry O’Gorman AM.
Terry said later that he was really quite surprised to receive the President’s Medal, as there were many others deserving such an award.
“There were many other contenders who could have been awarded it,” he said. “One of the things I think that is not properly recognised about lawyers by the wider community is the significant number who do large amounts of pro bono work at levels just not achieved in other professions.”
QLS President Elizabeth Shearer told guests that Terry had been admitted to practice in 1976 and had worked fiercely to defend clients and to tirelessly protect the civil liberties of Queenslanders.
He had sat on the QLS Criminal Law Committee since 1979 and was an Executive Member of the National Association for Criminal Lawyers since its inception in 1986.
Terry was awarded the Order of Australia in a General Division in 1991 for services to the legal profession and holds the positions of President of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties and Vice President of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties. He is also a QLS accredited criminal law specialist and Senior Counsellor, and was the winner of QLS’s 2020 Outstanding Accredited Specialist Award.
He said a key criminal law challenge was explaining to the community that the fundamentals of criminal law had to be maintained at all costs, particularly the presumption of innocence.
“While there are going to be controversies from time to time – such as the current controversy about sexual assault – and while those controversies will have to be addressed, and properly addressed, it cannot be at the expense of the fundamentals of the criminal law, including the presumption of innocence and a fair trial,” he said.
Terry also said that the lack of a proper mechanism to address miscarriages of justice was an issue that really needed to be addressed.
“Our current process is old, clunky, and does not address individual and systemic causes of miscarriages of justice,” he said. “We have to follow the United Kingdom model, where they’ve got a miscarriage of justice commission (Criminal Cases Review Commission) which has been in existence now for more than 20 years.
“It is a much better mechanism because at the moment our miscarriage of justice system has to go through the eye of the needle of the Governor referring back to the Attorney-General of the day; if the Attorney-General of the day will not refer it back to the Court of Appeal, then nothing happens.
“And the Court of Appeal has a narrow jurisdiction in which to address and uphold appeals. I think the UK model is something that is way overdue.”
Terry was asked if he could reveal something about himself that not many people knew.
“In 1980 at the height of the street march ban I was leading the legal observer corps, which was a group of young lawyers and law students who used to monitor what occurred at public gatherings,” he said. “I was arrested by the head of Special Branch and charged with obstruction.
“I was defended by Cedric Hampson QC, who was then the leader of the Queensland Bar, leading Pat Keane, who is now a senior High Court judge, and the instructing solicitor was Wayne Goss, later to become Premier – and I was acquitted.”