The organisations opposed the idea of the Victoria Police using lawyers as human sources
The Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) have expressed serious concerns over the Human Source Management Bill 2023 that was introduced into parliament last month.
The bill, which was introduced on 7 February, aims to implement several recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants (RCMPI), including introducing a system for registering, using, and managing human sources by Victoria police.
LIV president Tania Wolff said that while they welcomed the transparency that the bill provides, the organisation is fundamentally opposed to the way lawyers could wind up compromising their positions.
"We are opposed to the idea that lawyers could ever be used as human sources or that they should covertly inform against their clients. To do so is contrary to a lawyer's role as an officer of the court and violates many other ethical duties that a lawyer owes to their client," Wolff said.
She emphasised that the duty of strict confidentiality aims to protect the client and that encroaching on this undermines community trust and confidence in the administration of justice.
"Lawyers play a central role in the administration of justice, and that does not include being an evidence-gathering instrument of Victoria Police," Wolff added.
Wolff pointed out that the High Court's ruling in December 2018 clearly stated that a lawyer who informs on their client to the police while claiming to act for them is a clear breach of ethical obligations.
"Despite Royal Commission findings and a High Court ruling that a lawyer who informs on their client to the police while purporting to act for them is a clear breach of ethical obligations, this legislation in its current form would legitimise such conduct," Wolff said.
Victorian Bar President Sam Hay added, "The roles of informant and lawyer are fundamentally opposed, and one person cannot ethically wear both hats at the same time."
The LIV and Victorian Bar will continue to consult with the government and members of parliament about the proposed legislation. However, they urged the government to withdraw the provisions in the bill that would permit the registration of lawyers as informants.