Legal Services Commissioner accuses Attorney-General of unethical conduct

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday September 19, 2019

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A fight has been brewing in Queensland between the state’s legal watchdog and the Attorney-General.

Acting Legal Services Commissioner Bob Brittan this week told The Courier-Mail of his concerns over the allegedly unethical selection process of his replacement.

Legal bodies have been enlisted to select the new commissioner — the authority tasked with investigating complaints about lawyers — which has reportedly “pissed off” Brittan.

“In my view it doesn’t pass the pub test. There is a clear perception of bias in relation to the selection process,” he said.

The initial selection panel included members of the Queensland Law Society and Bar Association of Queensland. The panel was scrapped after Brittan sought advice from the Integrity Commissioner and delivered it to Queensland’s Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath early last year.

“I agree that a fully informed reasonable member of the public would have concerns about the current proposed composition of the selection panel due to the potential conflicts of interest,” the advice said.

According to Brittan, he was eventually interviewed for the role but nothing eventuated, as D’Ath believed the candidates and second selection panel — which did not include the legal bodies — were not up to scratch.

After Brittan decided he would not reapply, a third panel was established that once again included the legal bodies.

A spokesperson for D’Ath said the latest selection panel had been approved by the appropriate authority.

“The Integrity Commissioner was consulted about the panel and she agreed with the make-up of the board,” they told the Courier Mail.

“It’s entirely appropriate to have respected members of the legal profession to be involved with this important appointment.”

D’Ath has also argued that there have been no ethical concerns with the selection process, describing Brittan as a “disgruntled former applicant” who had attempted to influence the selection process.

“Every step of the way I’ve done everything in my power to protect the integrity of the process,” she told parliament on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t usually comment on private discussion but I feel I have no choice after Mr Brittan’s comments brought into question the judgment and independence of the senior members of Bar Association of Queensland and Law Society.”

D’ath maintained that she was confident the panel would choose the best candidate for the job.

Brittan served as acting commissioner in 2014 and was appointed to the role again at the end of 2017. Former politician Paul Clauson was commissioner from 2014-2017.

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