The Law Council of Australia says, under new anti-terror laws put forward by the Federal Government, legal-aid clients would no longer be able to choose their lawyers.
The council says the Government’s proposal, still to be passed by parliament, requires legal-aid lawyers acting on certain cases to pass security clearances first.
The Law Council’s acting president, Bob Gotterson says clients could no longer choose their lawyers in cases relating to national security.
He says clients would be forced to see lawyers approved by federal government security agencies instead.
Mr Gotterson says that would deny them fair hearings and would especially put newly arrived migrants, who often need to access legal-aid services, at a disadvantage.
“If you want to select a lawyer who speaks your native language and, therefore, get your message across much more easily, and that lawyer hasn’t got government approval, under this new system, then you are disadvantaged. What this really amounts to is moving towards a system, at least at the legal-aid level and for cases where there are national-security overtones, a system of state-controlled lawyers.”
Mr Gotterson says the federal government is intent on introducing the new laws, despite opposition from state and territory governments and from the legal profession.
He says the federal government is simply following the lead of the United States on national-security policy, rather than adopting a more independent stance.
“One might venture the view that why this proposal is coming forward is simply to harmonise the provisions that you might find in some other nations, particularly the United States, for example, and to bring Australia into line with that. National security is very important, but, under the existing court processes and disciplinary proceedings, there’s enough there to protect legitimately national-security interests.”