Money Owed
Money Owed

Legal watchdog takes a bite out of process to replace him

QUEENSLAND'S key legal bodies will help handpick their own watchdog despite the state's Integrity Commissioner warning it was a conflict of interest.

The scandal has been exposed by acting Legal Services Commissioner Bob Brittan who has accused the Palaszczuk Government of unethical conduct in the hunt for his replacement.

In an exclusive interview with The Courier-Mail, Mr Brittan said he was "pissed off" after an 18-month internal struggle over his position and felt a duty to blow the whistle on a selection process that "doesn't pass the pub test".

Bob Brittan outside the Brisbane city law courts. Pic: Peter Wallis
Bob Brittan outside the Brisbane city law courts. Pic: Peter Wallis

"I have got concerns in relation to the selection process that has occurred in respect to the Legal Services Commissioner," he said.

"In my view it is a matter of public interest that this process should be challenged and reviewed as to whether proper processes have been followed

"In my view it doesn't pass the pub test. There is a clear perception of bias in relation to the selection process."

The initial selection panel that included Queensland Law Society and Bar Association of Queensland representatives was disbanded after Mr Brittan provided advice from the Integrity Commissioner to Attorney General Yvette D'Ath in early 2018.

"I agree that a fully informed reasonable member of the public would have concerns about the current proposed composition of the selection panel due to the potential conflicts of interest," the advice said.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath (AAP image, John Gass)
Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath (AAP image, John Gass)

Mr Brittan said he was interviewed for the role months later but was told by Ms D'Ath that the process had been scuppered because she was not happy with the calibre of candidates and a second selection panel, which did not include the legal bodies.

After telling the department he would not reapply this year, a third panel was established that included Bar Association president Rebecca Treston, who handed out how-to-vote cards for Labor at the Federal election, and QLS president Bill Potts.

An announcement is imminent.

Mr Brittan said he was appalled that the office bearers from the legal bodies had again been included when they and their members can be investigated by the statutory commission.

"And that indeed has happened in the past, the presidents and other office bearers have been subject to complaints," he said.

Mr Brittan said the 2014 panel that recommended his predecessor Paul Clauson, who was replaced in 2017 while holidaying interstate, included the QLS but the legal bodies did not have the majority.

Former Legal Services Commissioner Paul Clauson
Former Legal Services Commissioner Paul Clauson

He also revealed the pay packet for his replacement would be about $120,000 more after a review.

"I don't understand why the pay scale has been increased," he said.

A spokesman for Attorney General Yvette D'Ath insisted new advice had been sought that approved the make-up of the latest selection panel.

"The Integrity Commissioner was consulted about the panel and she agreed with the make-up of the board," he said.

"It's entirely appropriate to have respected members of the legal profession to be involved with this important appointment."

However, Opposition justice spokesman David Janetski said the Legal Services Commissioner role was vital and he commended Mr Brittan for speaking out.

"The Palaszczuk Labor Government's integrity crisis just keeps getting worse," he said.

"Why has the Integrity Commissioner's advice been ignored by Annastacia Palaszczuk's Attorney-General?"