Forging a closer relationship with our South Pacific neighbours is a passion for Queensland Law Society (QLS) President Rebecca Fogerty after her recent attendance at the Fiji Law Society (FLS) Conference.
About 600 people attended the FLS conference from 19-20 January on Yanuca Island, including Law Council of Australia President Greg McIntyre SC and LawAsia Secretary-General Dr Gordon Hughes.
Rebecca, who took office this month, said the Fijian legal profession comprised about 2000 lawyers, many of whom studied at Queensland or other Australian universities.
QLS was represented at the conference.
“QLS and Fiji LS have a longstanding memorandum of agreement that has been in hibernation for the last decade or so,” she said.
“We have also just established a Pacific Island Engagement Working Group, following interest led by members.
“In light of the new political landscape, I consider there are substantial opportunities for Queensland lawyers and we should continue to develop this relationship.”
Rebecca said the political climate directly impacted the profession and during the 2006 coup, the legal profession was under direct attack by the military regime.
“The Fiji Law Society was stripped of all of its regulatory powers in an attempt to weaken the political impact of a lawyers’ collective,” she recalled.
“Its building was burnt down, along with all records. Law Society conferences were held in secret, prompted by fears that the military might arrive at any time.
“The new government is expected to return to a focus on relationships with Australia and New Zealand.
“The government is talking about widespread legislative reform in areas such as professional regulation, domestic violence, family law and alternative dispute resolution.
“The Fijian Law Society expects the government will restore some of its regulatory powers in legislation later this year, including making the practice management course compulsory.”
Rebecca speaking at the conference.
Rebecca said there were opportunities to assist Fijian practitioners, who were mostly generalists, with training mediators, human rights training content, and exchange programs, as well as holding joint CPD and developing PMC content.
These opportunities reflect a key point of her conference speech that “from little things, big things grow”.
Her address to the conference focused on the role of courts and judiciary in shaping legal transformation. Rebecca focused on the Queensland experience, applauding the critical role of the Magistrates Court in implementing landmark domestic violence reforms.
“The Magistrates Court, like all institutions of government, has no option but to respond to social change,” she told the conference.
“The (new) domestic violence laws are notable because they are an unapologetically deliberate attempt by the (democratically elected) government to transform the legal and social landscape.
“One of the characteristics of the Magistrates Court is, because it is the busiest of all courts, it see first hand the directions of social change in the people who appear before it.
“In the domestic violence jurisdiction, Magistrates are performing a continuous dance between these two things.”
In her speech, Rebecca also wanted to highlight that local practices were important in how the courts, explicitly or indirectly, contributed to social change.
“The reality is that courts are living, breathing, dynamic institutions who are not and never should be immune from changing social forces,” she said.
“But I also wanted to highlight the often overlooked role of the Magistrates Court as being front and centre of the living, breathing courts.
“From little things, big things grow. Our courts are here to serve the people and stay enduring and relevant amidst the chaos, dysfunction and diversity of human experience before it.”