Law Society slams rush to reimburse s. Australian officials

Law Society slams rush to reimburse s. Australian officials

South Australian lawyers say that hurried anti-corruption laws allow public officials convicted of certain crimes to charge taxpayers for their legal fees, and Parliament's handling of the laws fails the pub test last week, an ABC exclusive report shows the implications of a little-understood change to the state's Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act.

The legislation was passed by South Australia's parliament after less than 24 hours of debate last year.

It allows MPs and public servants to claim their legal costs back for offences including deception, theft, and dishonestly dealing with documents because they no longer fall within the definition of corruption in the ICAC Act.

Barrister and Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson said the public should be outraged by the provision, and he had never heard of it. In a letter to Attorney-General Kyam Maher, the Law Society of SA said the reimbursement provisions applied at certain points in legal proceedings.

A public officer who is subject to an ICAC investigation can only apply for legal costs related to the investigation and not the costs of defending criminal proceedings, such as the costs of defending criminal proceedings, President Justin Stewart-Rattray said.

The Attorney-General has no discretion to deny reimbursement once the conditions are satisfied and the person is convicted of an indictable offense that constitutes '' corruption in public administration. The Law Society said it had not a position on whether such reimbursement was appropriate or not.

It said that strict secrecy provisions, trifling or accidental offending, and the financial burden placed on individuals not wealthy enough to fund a private lawyer for extended periods could be justifications for the provision.

The question of whether such a policy should be adopted would be a matter for further consultation, according to the Society.

The Law Society called for a full review of the legislation after extremely limited and inadequate consultation. The Society is concerned by suggestions that parliamentarians who voted for the ICAC reforms were not fully aware of or did not fully appreciate the effects of the provisions, according to Stewart-Rattray.

The Society believes that a more thorough review of the ICAC Act would be appropriate, given other potential knock-on effects of the ICAC reforms that the Law Society has previously identified.

The public should expect parliamentarians to talk about the merits of proposed legislation.

When there is an intent to hurry legislation through with minimal scrutiny, it tends to fail the pub test''.

It can lead to bad law. Both the Premier Peter Malinauskas and Attorney-General Kyam Maher said they would seek further advice regarding the reimbursement provisions.

A State government spokesman said the Law Society's views on this matter will be provided to and taken into account by those who advise the Attorney-General on this matter. Former Liberal MPs Troy Bell and Fraser Ellis are currently in the courts, charged with using the Country Members Accommodation Allowance CMAA. The scheme allowed regional MPs to be reimbursed for nights spent in Adelaide on official business.

Both are charged with deception offences for allegedly claiming tens of thousands of dollars they were not entitled to.

They are eligible to claim legal costs regardless of the outcome in the court.