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Senior lawyers divided on Rau's elevation to silk

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Members of the state’s Bar Association are divided about Attorney-General John Rau’s elevation to the rank of Senior Counsel, with some believing his appointment has devalued the institution.

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The newly appointed president of the association, Ian Robertson, said today that he had surveyed every silk in South Australia during Rau’s appointment process.

He told ABC 891 he had found divided opinion among barristers about the Attorney-General being granted the title, with some believing the move has undermined confidence in the institution.

“My members suggest that it has,” he told the 891 breakfast program.

“There’s a disquiet amongst a number of Senior Members of the Bar Association. I couldn’t say it applies to all members of the Bar Association.”

Some members believed the appointment had devalued the status of Senior Counsel in South Australia.

“Some do… some certainly don’t. Some think that it’s entirely appropriate, others think it’s not, but you’d expect that.”

Robertson said he hoped a similar situation would not arise in the future.

He would not say what the association’s advice was to the Supreme Court, which decides which applicants are elevated to the position of Senior Counsel (formerly Queen’s Counsel).

Rau hit back at Robertson today for going public with the concerns.

“All members of the profession are aware that from time to time the appointment of Senior Counsel produces differences of opinion within the legal community,” Rau said in a statement.

“Usually, these differences are not the subject of public discourse.”

Robertson’s comments came after the state’s Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said Rau’s application had created an “awkward” situation for the Supreme Court. Kourakis abstained from the decision “because it if were thought that I was supporting the Attorney, some might think I was compromising my position in terms of what I have to do to maintain the independence of the judiciary against the executive”.

Robertson agreed with Kourakis’s assessment, particularly given the process had changed from one of executive appointment in the past, to rest now with the judiciary.

“It’s always difficult, I think, when you have a change of system and the court is then making a decision which involves another arm of Government, the executive arm of Government, so the judiciary and the executive arm of Government might have come into conflict as a result of it. I entirely agree with the Chief Justice.”

When asked if a situation like this should be repeated in the future, he said: “I hope not.”

Rau, who practiced as a barrister in South Australia before being elected to state Parliament in 2002, yesterday defended his application for the coveted title and vowed to continue his parliamentary career despite speculation that he was preparing for a life after politics.

“Can I make it clear – my intention is to continue my present role,” he said.

“I intend to continue in the role and indeed to be a candidate at the election in 2018… so for those people seeing some other future for me, they can relax.”

He denied there was anything inappropriate about his application, saying the process was completely separate from the executive arm of government.

“Some people only see things through a political benefit prism,” he said.

“That’s not the way I look at things,” he said, adding the issue had “nothing to do particularly with politics”.

“I’ve been a member of the legal profession for 35 years and a member of the bar for the best part of 20 years…”

He rejected Opposition calls for him to hand back the title.

“The matter has already been dealt with; the matter is now a matter of record,” the Attorney said.

“I made an application, I put myself in the position where the court could assess that application… they decided to grant that application.

“I’m entitled to rest on the judgement of the court, just as any other citizen of the state is entitled to.”

 

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