Better parliamentary procedures required to support law reform: Justice Kirby

Thursday, 1 December 2005: Australian jurisdictions—federal, state and territory—need to improve parliamentary procedures for responding to law reform reports if the law is to keep pace with social and technological change, the Hon Justice Michael Kirby said today.

The problem of how to secure governmental attention to law reform is an “institutional defect” that represents a “real weakness of the system of representative and accountable democracy as we practise it”, the High Court Justice said.

Justice Kirby’s comments were made in Sydney at the launch of The Promise of Law Reform—a volume of specially commissioned essays from leading legal, political and academic figures around the world, published to mark the 30th anniversary of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).

Justice Kirby was Foundation Chairman of the ALRC, and during the decade he headed the organisation, he pioneered law reform philosophies and practices that are now considered standard operating procedure for law reform agencies internationally—including an emphasis on community consultation and public participation.

Justice Kirby said the ALRC has tackled issues of great complexity in the interface of law and science—in such areas as human tissue transplantation, privacy in the computer age, and genetic discrimination.

“Dr Francis Collins who led the Human Genome Project, the greatest cooperative scientific achievement in history, described the ALRC’s work on law and genomics as ‘a truly phenomenal job, putting Australia ahead of the rest of the world’.

“When work of such quality can be done by law reformers, praised from such a quarter, we surely must know that we are on the right track. But all too often, law reform proposals go to the bottom of the ministerial and legislative pile.

“They secure much less attention than the political ideas and personality and party schemes that dominate contemporary politics. Occasionally, law reform proposals are swiftly implemented. However, even areas in the most obvious need for attention, reform efforts sometimes lie fallow—not for reasons of political opposition but sheer indifference and institutional failure,” Justice Kirby said.

The Promise of Law Reform is edited by ALRC Commissioner Mr Brian Opeskin and ALRC President Professor David Weisbrot and published by The Federation Press. The book is the most comprehensive examination of law reform issues and controversies, institutions and processes, ever produced in the common law world, reflecting the experience in Australia and overseas.

Distinguished authors apart from Justice Kirby include former Chief Justice of Australia Sir Anthony Mason ; Prof Nathalie Des Rosiers (former President, Law Commission of Canada); Justice Bruce Robertson (former President, New Zealand Law Commission); Justice Ron Sackville (Federal Court of Australia and former Chair, NSW Law Reform Commission); Justice Elton Singini (Chair, Malawi Law Commission and President, Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies–or ‘CALRAs’); Michael Sayers (Secretary-General of CALRAs); UK Chief Parliamentary Counsel Sir Edward Caldwell QC; and Senator Marise Payne (Chair, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee).

The Promise of Law Reform

Table of Contents

A. History, Purpose and Function

1 A History of Law Reform in Australia Prof Michael Tilbury (NSWLRC)

2 The Future for Institutional Law Reform Prof David Weisbrot (President, ALRC)

3 A Vision of Tidiness: Codes, Consolidations and Statute Law Revision Sir Edward Caldwell

B. Institutional Design

4 Institutional Architecture Prof Kate Warner (Director, Tasmanian LRI)

5 Independence and Accountability of Law Reform Agencies Peter Hennessy (NSWLRC)

6 Continuity, Discontinuity, Stasis and Innovation Prof Rod Macdonald (former Chair, LC Canada)

7 Initiation and Selection of Projects Justice J Bruce Robertson

C. Methods and Operations

8 Strategic and Project Planning Prof Anne Rees (formerly ALRC)

9 Research Prof Martin Partington (Law Commission of England & Wales )

10 Targeted Consultations Ian Davis (formerly ALRC)

11 Law Reform and Community Participation Justice Roslyn Atkinson (Chair, Queensland LRC)

12 Relations with the Media David Solomon (The Courier Mail)

D. Outputs and Outcomes

13 Products of Law Reform Agencies Lani Blackman (ALRC)

14 Measuring Success Brian Opeskin (ALRC)

15 Implementation John Hannaford (former NSW Attorney General)

E. Co-operation and Mutual Assistance

16 Leadership and Ideas: Law Reform in a Federation Prof Nathalie Des Rosiers

17 Co-operation across Frontiers Michael Sayers

F. Other Law Reform Initiatives

18 Professional and Private Bodies Justice Ralph Simmonds (former Chair, LRCWA)

19 Law Reform Agencies and Royal Commissions: Toiling in the Same Field? Justice Ron Sackville

20 Law Reform through the Executive Laurie Glanfield (Director-General, NSW AG’s Dept)

21 Law Reform and the Legislature Senator Marise Payne

22 Law Reform and the Courts Sir Anthony Mason

G. Law Reform in Action

23 The Growth of Civil Justice Reform Prof Peter Sallmann (formerly VLRC)

24 Challenges to Criminal Justice Reform Prof David Brown (UNSW)

25 Law Reform and Social Justice Prof Marcia Neave (Chair, VLRC)

26 Science, Medicine and Health and the Work of the ALRC Prof Don Chalmers ( Tasmania )

27 Law Reform and Legal Education: Uniting Separate Worlds Prof Michael Coper (ANU)

28 The Challenge of Law Reform in Pacific Island States Prof Guy Powles (USP)

29 The Challenge of Law Reform in Southern Africa Mwangala Kamuwanga ( Zambia LDC)

30 Are We There Yet? Justice Michael Kirby