Thursday, 15 November 2012
Lawyers are ‘problem solvers’ who can have small but significant impacts in the lives of people, says the head of the Law Council of Australia.
Emeritus Professor Sally Walker AM made the comments as the 2012 Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Orator, speaking to students, staff and the public at Edith Cowan University’s (ECU’s ) Joondalup Campus.
Her speech covered the topics of asylum seeker policy, terrorism laws, the contributions of Edith Cowan and gender equality.
Professor Walker is the Secretary General of the Law Council of Australia. She has previously held the position of Vice-Chancellor and President of Deakin University and was the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne.
“Lawyers are uniquely placed to make small but significant impacts in the lives of people by acting as problem solvers and providing independent advice that allows other to understand and to give effect to their rights,” Professor Walker said.
But they also had an important role to play in wider issues involving the government.
Professor Walker said the Law Council had expressed to successive governments that Australia should use traditional criminal law concepts and principles to enforce counter-terrorism laws.
“We do not think terrorism justifies a departure from rule of law concepts, we don’t think it supports the enactment of expansive new offences and powers that have not been shown to be necessary or proportionate in their impact in human rights,” she said.
Professor Walker also acknowledged the work of ECU’s namesake, Edith Cowan, in fighting for gender equality, particularly in professions such as law.
“Edith Cowan’s pioneering work in this area is of particularly significance to me in my work as the Secretary General of the Law Council of Australia.
“Edith Cowan was a tireless worker in the pursuit of social justice, human rights, and the rule of law, which are the core objectives of the Law Council of Australia.”
However, Professor Walker acknowledged that the legal profession still has work to do in ensuring greater gender equality.
Females represented 57 per cent of all lawyers in the government sector, but just 41 per cent in private practice, she said.
“Given that more women graduate from universities with a law degree than men, it is important to understand why women do not stay in the practicing profession. The Law Council is embarking on a study into the reasons for this.”
The complete transcript of Professor Walker’s speech will be available shortly.