There is a balance between secrecy and justice, which is a hallmark of a civilised system. We have far too much secrecy, and secrecy for its own sake engenders suspicion.
The Government Solicitors Week took place remotely this year, with speakers discussing innovative ways to navigate work in the public sector amid changes brought on by COVID-19.
The event, held from 7-11 September, saw 314 lawyers tune in over five days rather than attending the traditional one-day live conference. Lawyers were able to access 10 online conference sessions and post their questions to leading experts including Sydney barrister Bret Walker SC, NSW Surveillance Devices Commissioner Donald McKenzie, and constitutional law expert Professor Anne Twomey.
Bret Walker SC led a thought-provoking session on the issue of legal professional privilege with respect to secrecy, particularly in the context of government legal practice.
“There is a balance between secrecy and justice, which is a hallmark of a civilised system. We have far too much secrecy, and secrecy for its own sake engenders suspicion,” he said.
Australian Government Solicitor Michael Kingston gave the keynote address, exploring executive federalism – the concept of coordinating state and federal executive branches in enacting policy.
“Executive federalism has not been a term traditionally employed in Australia to describe relations between the commonwealth, state and territory governments,” said Kingston. “But it is a pithy and apt term, particularly in the context of COVID-19, because it directs attention to the structures that determine which government does what in the exercise of public power.”
Another highlight was Surveillance Devices Commissioner Don McKenzie who took viewers on a “bumpy ride” through the regulation of surveillance devices, discussing steps being taken to ensure the integrity of the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 and outlined key strategies to problem solve in this area.
Law Society of NSW President Richard Harvey said the sessions offered targeted advice to assist practitioners to navigate the increasing complexity of government work in the era of COVID-19.
“The unprecedented and ongoing public health crisis has raised profound moral, legal and policy issues which will be explored over the next five days,” he said. “The necessity of working together is one of the great lessons of this crisis.”
At the end of the week, Harvey presented the John Hennessy Legal Scholarship to Sarah Wyatt, a solicitor from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, who accepted the honour remotely. Emma Langton, Senior Legal Officer in the Aboriginal Services Branch of Legal Aid NSW, won the prestigious Michelle Crowther PSM Excellence in Government Legal Service Award. She was there to accept her award in person, though without a handshake this year. Felicity Dougherty from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation was recognised as highly commended.