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Fairness at the heart of law reform push

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Jim McGinty has put the controversy of the past year’s legislative initiatives behind him and is setting a different course for 2002, with a number of plans that will affect business.

Mr McGinty has about 40 proposals he would like to see make it through parliament, many of them recommendations from the Law Reform Commission that have been gathering dust until they were resurrected in a report about the commission’s 30-year history.

While proposals such as the creation of a State administrative appeals tribunal, the opening up of the legal profession to a wider range of corporate structures, and modernising the Freedom of Information laws may not generate the same degree of public interest as gay law reform or ending gerrymanders, they may have a lasting impact in many areas of corporate activity.

Not that last year was completely devoid of business-related reforms.

The Labor Party avoided a showdown with Federal Government over Corporations Law, referring powers to the Commonwealth to end a long stand-off between Mr McGinty’s predecessor Peter Foss and Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams, which threatened to cut WA companies out of the national system of registration and regulation.

Mr Foss had used a looming threat of legal challenges to the Corporations Law to demand constitutional change, but business was concerned that there could be a huge cost to the State over a matter of principle.

“Last year, I think the Corporations Law referral was significant for the big end of town,” Mr McGinty said.

In the coming year few matters will even reach the scale of Corporations Law’s impact.

“There are a lot of things which have been a constant annoyance to people for decades, which we will fix,” Mr McGinty said.

“Last year we spent a lot of time on several policies.

“We have dealt with that and we are moving on to more mainstream areas which are less controversial.”

LRC chairman Professor Ralph Simmonds, who is Dean of Law at Murdoch University, said there were several recommendations that had been overlooked, mostly from recent times but some, in the case of elements of defamation law, stretching back 22 years.

“There are quite a few that, for one reason or another, the government did not act on, they were never repudiated,” Professor Simmonds said.

“The interpretation you get when you look at the legislative history is they (the recommendations) did not acquire a significant position in the legislative queue.”

Not all the reforms Mr McGinty has in mind originate with the LRC, but he has a draft copy of a report provided by the commission listing 92 recommendations.

“We are very pleased that recommendations by the commission we consider still applicable are being thought about again. A lot of work and energy went into those recommendations,” Professor Simmonds said.

“In the future, it would be useful to go back, perhaps every 10 years or so, and look for those law reform nuggets, so to speak, which could be implemented.

“It is modernising the law, rectifying real issues of fairness.”

WA Law Society president Clare Thompson said she was pleased to see structural reform.

“This year is about tinkering with how we do things,” Ms Thompson said.

“I think it is fair to say he (Mr McGinty) is actively trying to clean up a reformist backlog.”

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