A series of public debates on ethical conduct in the law, accounting and business was a significant contribution to this important issue made by the Australian Academy of Law in 2017.
The debates called for audience contribution and involvement and attracted around 600 participants over the year. The last, in Sydney on 22 November, filled the Federal Court’s ceremonial court to capacity. Attendees included legal practitioners, academics, students and interested participants in business and other professions.
Eminent panellists contributed to each debate. The last one – can ethics be taught? – was chaired by the Hon Paddy Bergin SC, with panellists Professor Adrian Evans (Monash), Dr Simon Longstaff, Professor Lesley Hitchins (UTS), Dr Justine Rogers (UNSW), Paul Monaghan and Arthur Moses SC.
The two prior debates were chaired by Fiona McLeod SC, President of the Law Council of Australia – law as a business or a profession, and John Sheahan SC – the expectation gap of what the law can in fact achieve. Those conducting these debates included Michael Lavarch, Cathie Armour (ASIC), Professor Bryan Horrigan, Dr Ruth Higgins, Professor Peter Cashman, Professor Uwe Dulleck (QUT), Don Robertson, Noel Hutley SC, Dr Attracta Lagan, John McKenzie (Legal Services Commissioner NSW) and Dr Linda Tucker (Community Legal Centres NSW).
Further details are on the Academy website: www.academyoflaw.org.au
The role of the legal and related professions in the conduct of business is important. Despite what should be good standards of commercial morality, there are continuing issues concerning ‘modern slavery’ and all that entails, including underpaid migrant workers; phoenix company misconduct and corporate officers acting in their own self-interest; asset transfers to avoid creditors, and tax in particular; abuse of government funding assistance; unsafe products; and sales misrepresentation in particular involved the aged, or those of limited literacy or numeracy skills.
Many such activities can only occur through professional assistance, or the turning of a blind eye.
But as Professor Adrian Evans has written in relation to the fall-out from the Enron collapse in the US, a continued denial of culpability by lawyers and others has inhibited any lasting improvement in US corporate ethics: Assessing Lawyers’ Ethics, [2.3.2], 2011.
The Academy is working on a new series of events and topics for 2018, around Australia. Any suggestions are welcome.
Michael Murray, Fellow and Director, Australian Academy of Law