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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- - I move -

That Regulation No. 25 of the National Security (Landlord and Tenant) Regulations issued under the National Security Act 1939- 1940, and included in Statutory Rules 1941, No. 275, be disallowed.

Under this motion I desire to secure the disallowance of one of the regulations contained in Statutory Rules 1941, No. 275, which relates to the setting up of fair rents boards and, generally speaking, provides for action through these boards for the fixation of fair rents for premises and for control over the eviction of tenants. I am concerned onlywith regulation 25, which provides that parties to the proceedings may be represented by an agent. If the regulation stopped there, I should have no objection to it, but sub-regulation 3 provides that " The agent shall not, without the consent of all parties or persons affected, or, unless the Attorney-General has intervened by counsel, be a barrister or solicitor, or a clerk of a barrister or solicitor". In other words, the regulation expressly excludes from the right of appearance before these bodies a section of professional men who have been trained for the purpose of performing duties of this kind. I have endeavoured to determine for my own satisfaction ; what possible justification there can be for such a regulation, but I confess that I have not been able to find any justification "whatsoever. After all, the regulations deal with matters which are the everyday concern of lawyers - matters upon which it would be most natural for those concerned with applications before these tribunals to consult lawyers. Suppose, for example, a woman in occupation of certain premises received a notice from her landlord intimating that he proposed to apply to the Fair Rents Court for the fixation of a fair rent, probably in excess of that which the woman was paying. What would such a tenant be likely to do? Her husband might he overseas in the Australian ImperialForce, and immediately she would look around for some one of competence to help her to deal with the matter. I suggest that the first, and most natural thing for the woman to do would be to go to a lawyer in order to obtain competent advice as towhat action she should take and what were her rights under these regulations.It would be difficult to find any other person in the community who could competently advise such a tenant. Having consulted a lawyer, no doubt he would tell the woman that she had to appear before a fair rents court. In these circumstances, it wouldbe very natural for her to say, " Well, of course, you will appear for me ". But lo and behold, the lawyer has to say, "I am sorry, but I cannot appear for you; you must get some other agent ". If the woman were unable to get a competent agent, then presumably she would have to accept the services of an incompetent one, -because she is forbidden by this regulation to obtain the assistance of a man -who is trained to understand these very matters. There is another curious thing about this regulation. fi it happened that the woman to whom I referred knew of a person who had been a solicitor, but who, owing to his misappropriation of clients-5 money, had been struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors, she could employ that person to appear before the tribunal. He would be permitted to appear, but a barrister and solicitor, practising his profession honestly and competently, and abiding by the rules of ethics which bind the profession, would be forbidden to plead the woman's case. That is a ridiculous position. I know that it is popular in some quarters to assume that whenever a lawyer enters into proceedings his clients will have to bear heavy costs. This is due to the fact that we hear very occasionally of legal proceedings of a protracted nature which have committed people to substantial expenditure. The persons who hold this idea overlook the fact that every day hundreds of solicitors appear in the courts of this country on behalf of poor people for very small fees. These solicitors protect the people against injustice. Is there any basis of justice in a regulation which provides that a landlord, who probably employs a competent estate agent, may be represented before the tribunal by that agent, whilst the complainant may not employ a solicitor? The landlord may pay the agent whatever fee he wishes, and the agent may be a man of considerable business capacity, and, if the landlord is wealthy, he will see that the agent is completely instructed by a barrister or solicitor as to the course that he shall pursue. In my experience, very few tenants are likely to consult estate agents in order to secure assistance in an undertaking of this kind. Therefore, unless they are prepared to go before the tribunal themselves and endeavour to compete with trained agents of the landlord, they are at a complete disadvantage.

Senator Keane - Is the honorable senator aware of the actual procedure in these courts in Melbourne at present?

Senator SPICER - I know that the procedure is very informal, but circumstances arise daily in which it is desirable that people who wish to have legal assistance should be allowed to secure it. I do not ask that the right of audience of lawyers before these tribunals should be exclusive. All that I ask is that a person who desires to employ a trained advocate should be entitled to do so. I have seen other tribunals in operation before which not only barristers and solicitors, hut also lay advocates have been permitted to appear. I assure honorable senators that people do not save money or time by employing lay advocates. In my experience the effect of employing such persons has often been that clients have paid good money for the services of bad advocates. I do not propose to occupy much time in dealing with this subject. The only part of this regulation to which I object is that which deliberately prevents the right of audience before these tribunals of barristers and solicitors. There is no justification whatever for such a provision. If the Minister were prepared to indicate to me that he would have sub-regulation 3 of regulation 25 repealed, I should bc willing to withdraw my motion. The provision creates an injustice which affects not only the profession to which I happen to belong - I am not particularly concerned with that aspect, of the matter - but also the people who have not at their command competent agents to undertake the work of representing them before these tribunals. I sincerely hope that the Minister will take steps to have this sub-regulation removed from the statutory rule.

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