Reproduced from @TheHeraldSun Sunday 18 November 2009 | by Laurie Nowell
|Court practice in the dock VICTORIANS may be able to sue dodgy or incompetent solicitors and legal sharks if a landmark test case in the Supreme Court is successful.In Victoria, clients can sue lawyers over negligent advice, but it is almost impossible to sue for their actions or utterances in court.
Human rights lawyer and activist James Johnson has launched a test case alleging he was disadvantaged by the negligent and unethical practices of lawyers in a property case.
Now he has brought an action against them using Victoria’s new Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Mr Johnson is claiming he has been denied “equal recognition under the law” – one of the Charter’s 19 principles.
“Australia’s barristers and litigation solicitors are the only professionals who are not legally liable for negligence in the workplace.” He said.
“This situation no longer exists in other English speaking legal systems.”
Laws in the US, Canada and many European countries have removed lawyers’ immunity over their actions in court.
Mr Johnson’s bid comes as new figures show the Legal Services Commission investigates more than 2000 complaints against lawyers each year.
The State Ombudsman has slammed the commission over its operation, citing 95 complaints.
Ombudsman George Brouwer said there were “recurring themes in the complaints which pointed to systemic failure by the Legal Services Commissioner to undertake its statutory role.”
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland has flagged a new consumer friendly blueprint for legal services.
He said he wanted a greater transparency in billing, a “clear, accessible and affordable” complaints system and a role for the public in setting standards.
The Consumer Law Action Centre has backed the plan.
Spokeswoman Caroline Bond said it was often difficult to have problems with lawyers resolved.
Problems were usually referred to the Legal Services Commissioner, but the commissioner had little power to make orders over costs.
Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has also questioned the lack of recourse against lawyers.
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James Johnson, Independent Federal Candidate for Lalor