06/05/2003 - 22:00

The Legal Elite: McCusker works to win

06/05/2003 - 22:00


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INDUSTRY speculation has it that the name McCusker is at, or near, the top of the list to head the State Government’s proposed Crime and Corruption Commission.

The Legal Elite: McCusker works to win

INDUSTRY speculation has it that the name McCusker is at, or near, the top of the list to head the State Government’s proposed Crime and Corruption Commission. And a glance at the CV of one Malcolm McCusker QC indicates his skills would not be out of place on the Supreme Court. 

But WA’s longest serving QC is quite content at doing what he does best – representing clients in WA’s judicial system.

Mr McCusker was the investigator into the 1989 Rothwells collapse, which led to a string of charges and formed the backbone of what became the WA Inc Royal Commission. He also helped former premier Brian Burke overturn a conviction for stealing ALP funds, handled the Andrew Mallard appeal, and more recently took on the Mickelberg appeal (both appeals were pro bono).

“I got into that by a chance conversation I had with Henry Wallwork, a retired judge. I said I found the result [a guilty verdict] hard to believe,” Mr McCusker said.

“These fellows are supposed to be clever but at the same time it was alleged they each said ‘I’d love to tell you but my brother would kill me’. To me it did not seem right.

“A year after that conversation Henry asked how I would like to do a High Court appeal for nothing. I said, ‘sure’.”

He said although a lifetime of law wasn’t in his original career plan, his long-term success in the industry was the result of a gentle family nudge, a bit of luck and years of hard work.  

 “I got a Commonwealth scholarship to go to university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I couldn’t make up my mind,” Mr McCusker said.

“My father said: ‘Why don’t you study law as a general vocation’.”

At the time he worked for Shell (as a mail boy and later became an internal auditor) in a full-time capacity while studying and playing rugby during his first year of law.

“At the end of my first year I decided that I did like the law and would carry on with it.”

After completing his degree, Mr McCusker became an article clerk at the law firm Cott Wallis and Gunning. He later became a partner.

He said the firm gave him a good footing to advance his career.

“I was very fortunate at Cott and Wallis. They threw everything at me and I had a wide variety of things to do,” Mr McCusker said.

“I went to full court in my first year of practice, and that just doesn’t happen.

“Six years after that I started my own firm and then took on various partners.

“I was doing more and more work as a barrister, about 95 per cent of it.”

The extraordinary level of outside work helped earn Mr McCusker the title of Queens Counsel in 1982. 

Usually QC appointments are made to lawyers not associated with a law firm, however because the majority of Mr McCusker’s business came from outside his firm’s (McCusker and Harmer) normal business, an exception was made.

Mr McCusker is passionate about the legal system and over the years has been a strong supporter of rubbing out corruption. More recently he has been behind the State Government’s proposal to replace the Legal Practice Board with a new administrative tribunal.

“The time has come for a more independent and formal tribunal. I think it [the Legal Practice Board] needs better structure,” he said.

Mr McCusker is also chairman of the legal aid commission and chair of the WA constitutional committee.


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