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The Australian National University

Disclosing Lawyers: Questioning Law and Process in the Admission of Australian Lawyers

Francesca Bartlett and Linda Haller (2013) 41 (2)

Australian lawyers are assessed and admitted to practise at a state and territory level. An important part of that assessment is an applicant's 'suitability' for professional practise; also referred to as the 'character test' of personal morality. This test requires applicants for admission to disclose relevant information about themselves including past conduct and (in at least one state) mental health status. Very little information about the process of admission is available. Around the country, we do not know how the character test is currently administered, how many applicants reveal past conduct, and how many are refused admission. This article focuses on the three largest jurisdictions of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. It traces their varying approaches to admission; from legislative provision, court interpretation to administrative approach. It also examines some rare data about disclosure patterns on applying for admission. The resulting analysis raises concerns about a range of matters relating to admission to legal practice in Australia. It is argued that the secrecy of process is unjustified; and there is lack of confidentiality, certainty, and possibly fairness, ensured for applicants, particularly where issues of mental health arise. Finally, it is argued that there is a great difference in law and process between the states considered. While the ostensible goal of protection of the public is the same, the approach is far from that.

Vol 41, Issue 2, 2013

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