QLS President pleads for judicial commission as tenure ends

Queensland’s peak law body has invited the State Government to help it continue its ‘working group’ dedicated to devising a model to help establish the state’s inaugural independent judicial commission.

Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson last week made a renewed pitch for an independent judicial commission in a speech to the legal profession – including a myriad of senior jurists and prominent practitioners and politicians at Wednesday’s exchange of Christmas greetings ceremony.

Chief Justice Helen Bowskill headed up a who’s who of the legal fraternity at the annual ceremony in the QEII Courts of Law ceremonial Banco Court to recognise newly minted silks and to celebrate the festive season.

Ms Thomson, in her last official public speaking engagement as QLS 2022 President, said she was particularly proud of the Society’s achievement of establishing a judicial commission working group to devise a model for a future judicial commission for Queensland.

“This key work will assist the courts, the profession, and the public greatly and would be a much celebrated funding item in next year’s State Budget,” Ms Thomson said.

“It is particularly pertinent because we know there is increasing pressure on the justice system and our judiciary and we have seen some very recent raw tragedies impacting our judiciary this year, so education and support is a critical feature of a proposed commission.”


Debate over the need for an independent judicial commission in Queensland was reignited last month in the wake of allegations made by an experienced magistrate, then based at Beenleigh, about his claims of being rebuked by the head of jurisdiction and being moved to another court.

Media reports published in November alleged acting Magistrate Ron Kilner spoke in open court and made an assertion he had been criticised by the Chief Magistrate of comments made in an ongoing case.

QLS responded to the report with a statement, in which Ms Thomson restated the Society’s longstanding call for the establishment of an independent judicial commission.

“Maintaining the integrity of the judicial system, and of government and public institutions requires scrutiny and oversight by a dedicated independent body,” Ms Thomson said at the time. 

“An independent judicial commission will enhance the openness, transparency and independence of the judicial system whose role would include examining complaints against judicial officers, including delays in delivering judgments and inappropriate or unreasonable conduct directed towards persons appearing before the officer.”

Ms Thomson also used her speech to acknowledge that the Society – which currently represents the majority of Queensland’s 14,631 solicitors – was on the cusp of celebrating its 150th anniversary.


“We are now on the eve of 150 years since the very first meeting of solicitors forming the Queensland Law Society,” Ms Thomson said.

“It was a group of professionals who came together to make things better, much as we do now. Those pioneers saw as key the mission to preserve the integrity of the solicitors’ branch of the profession, aid the diffusion of legal knowledge, and to aid reforms likely to be beneficial in the law.

“150 years later our focus on good law, good lawyers for the public good remains true to our origins.

“We have as our tradition, innovation and this call to service, which has been demonstrated down through the years, and in true This Is Your Life style, let me take you down memory lane of significant milestones of the Law Society.

“In 1930, the Society created Australia’s first, and the world’s second, Fidelity Guarantee Fund. At the time it was reported that: ‘It is believed that Queensland was the first State in the Commonwealth to take active steps to ensure the confidence of the public in the members of an old and honourable profession’.

“In 1940, the Society sought changes to the formalities for making wills for servicemen and in 1941, the Society established a Legal Aid to Soldiers’ Committee and implemented a free legal aid scheme for servicemen in army camps about the effect of service regulations and wills.


“In 1954, the Society appointed Ms Beryl Donkin the first ever female Secretary of a law society in the British Commonwealth. Beryl served 27 years as Secretary of the Society and received an OBE for her dedication to (QLS).

“In 1966, the Society created a new legal assistance scheme for civil law matters uniquely funded by interest on trust accounts. I note in the last financial year the Queensland Government received $3.1 million interest earned on funds held in solicitors’ trust accounts and spent considerably more on legal assistance services.

“In 1978, the Society was one of the first movers in Australia to create a compulsory professional indemnity scheme for its members, arranging group insurance and creating a Law Claims department to handle insurance claims on behalf of practitioners.

“In 1988, the Society took to the skies using satellite technology to make the first telecast of a live Continuing Law Education seminar to regional members.

“In 2002, the Law Society’s Council introduced a ruling to cap fees that may be charged by solicitors in speculative personal injury actions to not more than half the net award received by their client. This was something that later became legislated.

“In 2009, in the pit of the Global Financial Crisis, the Society was successful in receiving an exemption from the Wholesale Deposit Guarantee Charge for solicitors trust accounts with balances over $1 million. This provided deposit guarantee coverage for firms which would have otherwise cost $1.5 million a year to the Queensland profession and its clients.


“In 2011, the Society worked with partners to establish the ‘Flood and Cyclone Legal Help’, a pro bono legal response to assist disadvantaged Queenslanders affected by the floods and cyclones Anthony and Yasi.

“In 2020 the Society was very pleased to welcome a small business restructure transfer duty exemption, which permitted law firms operated as sole practitioners or partnerships to move to incorporated legal practices without cost.

“During the early part of the COVID pandemic, the Society, with its partners, led with a significant multi-million dollar financial relief and investment package to support our members through unchartered waters.

“This year, I am particularly proud to say we established our Judicial Commission Working Group to devise a model for a future judicial commission for Queensland.”

Ms Thomson’s tenure as QLS President will end at midnight on 31 December.

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