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The Parliament of Australia(n lawyers)

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How many lawyers are in Australia's Parliament? Too bloody many, says five-time Walkley Award winning Australian investigative journalist Evan Whitton.

(Image via thesimpsons.com)

Q. How many lawyers would be in the Australian Parliament if they had the same percentage there as they do of the general population?

A. A little less than half a lawyer.

To be precise: O.452 of a lawyer. That is, lawyers are one-fifth of one per cent of the population, and the Parliament has 226 members, 150 in the House and 76 in the Senate.

Q. How many lawyers are actually in the Parliament (not counting the Labor six making a graceful exit: Julia Gillard, Simon Crean, Stephen Smith, Nicola Roxon, Peter Garrett, Robert McClelland.)?

A. 60 (26.5%.)

Voters might find the number dispiriting. A July 2013 Reader’s Digest poll found that Australian lawyers are less trusted than police, bus drivers, hairdressers, waiters and cleaners. Of trusted professions, lawyers placed 39th, journalists 43rd (thanks Rupert), talk-back radio hosts 44th and prostitutes 46th.

Three below sex workers, at 49th, politicians ‒ presumably including lawyer-politicians ‒ did not run stone, motherless last. At 50th, that honour fell to door-to-door salespeople.

Why are lawyers so distrusted?

A couple of possibilities:

Hofstra law professor Monroe Freedman wrote in 2006:
'... there are circumstances in which a lawyer can ethically make a false statement of fact to a tribunal, can ethically make a false statement of material fact to a third person, and can ethically engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.'
Professor Monroe Freedman (via law.hofstra.edu)

Of course, Monny got the American Bar Association’s highest award for his writings on ethics.

Lawyers are in charge of evidence in the adversary system in England and its former colonies — such as Australia, the United States and India. That is, lawyers who claim to be ethically entitled to lie have the job of gathering and presenting evidence and questioning witnesses.

The results are not cheering for citizens whose taxes pay for the system. Lawyers on upwards of $1,500 an hour have an incentive to spin the process out; hearings can take weeks, months, even years.

In the French system, by contrast, judges are in charge of evidence; on a fixed wage, they have no incentive to prolong the process; most hearings take a day or so.

Our system is better at making money for lawyers than at delivering justice. At least 1% (and 5% in the U.S.) of people in prison are innocent — and fewer than half of guilty defendants are convicted.

In France, the innocent are rarely charged, let alone convicted — and almost all guilty defendants are convicted.

Lawyers having made a mess of the legal system, fewer lawyers in our Federal Parliament (say 59 ½ fewer) might perhaps improve the political system. If so, here are some handy lists of remaining lawyer-politicians for Australian voters' edification:

Coalition members of the House (17): Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop, Steven Ciobo, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Paul Fletcher, Josh Frydenberg, Joe Hockey, Greg Hunt, Sophie Mirabella, Kelly O’Dwyer, Christopher Pyne,  Philip Ruddock, Alan Tudge, Malcolm Turnbull.
Tasmanian lawyer, the Liberal Party's Eric Abetz

Coalition Senators (11):  Eric Abetz, George Brandis, David Bushby, Michaelia Cash, Mathias Cormann, Gary Humphries, David Johnston, Ian Macdonald, Brett Mason, Marise Payne, Michael Ronaldson.

Labor members of the House (21): Tony Burke, David Bradbury, Mark Butler, Jason Clare, Yvette D’Ath, Mark Dreyfus, Stephen Jones, Mike Kelly, Andrew Leigh, Kirsten Livermore, Richard Marles, Daryl Melham, Shayne Neumann, Brendan O’Connor, Melissa Parke, Graham Perrett, Michelle Rowland, Janelle Saffin, Bill Shorten, Laura Smyth, Kelvin Thomson.

Labor Senators (5): Mark Bishop, Don Farrell, Joe Ludwig, Matt Thistlethwaite, Penny Wong.

House Independents (2): Peter Slipper, Craig Thomson.

House Greens (1): Adam Bandt.

Senate Independent (1): Nick Xenophon.

Senate Greens (2): Larissa Waters, Penny Wright.

Evan Whitton is a legal historian — an occupation almost as rare as the pig-footed bandicoot. Dr Bob Moles, an authority on miscarriages, said his book, Our Corrupt Legal System: “should be required reading on Introduction to Law courses in all law schools”. The book can be downloaded free from net.k.net.au/whittonhome.asp. Also at Amazon and books.google.com.au/ebooks.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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