We ain’t that bad, really!

As a lawyer, my eye was caught by an excerpt from one of The Road to Surfdom’s latest posts:

In a country where the federal cabinet consists of little but grey soulless lawyers, it’s ironic that some of the most admirable characters in the struggle to defend personal liberty and democratic principle are also members of the legal profession. Major Michael Mori showed us the best of the US law fraternity and now along comes Stephen Keim SC, with terrific personal courage, to challenge the government’s contemptible attempts to exploit Dr Mohamed Haneef for political advantage.

On behalf of my species, I wish to reiterate that not all lawyers are grey and soulless. Many lawyers are defenders of human rights and fair process. Stephen Keim seems to be one of these lawyers. But he is not alone. Look at the guys over at A Roll of the Dice in this post here, or Marcellous’ posts and Law Font’s post, just to pick a few. Many lawyers are acutely aware of the power that the law has over people’s lives, which is why I think civil libertarian organisations attract more than their fair share of lawyers.

Just because one is a lawyer doesn’t mean that one is a bad person. On the other hand, nor does it mean that you are better or more moral than other people. Let’s have a look at a few prominent historical lawyers (and/or people who received legal training): Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, Nelson Mandela, Slobodan Milocevic, Gandhi, Bill Clinton, John Howard, Lenin, Franz Kafka, Jeremy Bentham, Abraham Lincoln, Karl Marx, Gough Whitlam. I think you’ll agree that lawyers, like any other group, are a mixed bag.

So many of the mixed bag mentioned above are politicians or involved in political thought. Why is it that lawyers are attracted to politics? As I have explained previously, I think the law is in itself intrinsically political. That is why this blog became political. The law proscribes what people can do, and imposes certain standards of behaviour on society. It is involved with all the important processes of life. Indeed law in the form of legislation is the end product of the democratic process.

Anyway, don’t blame us all for the sins of some of our brethren. Some of us are decent people. Seriously, we are! Wouldn’t you trust this face?

Puss in Boots

[Puss in Boots from Shrek 2]



Filed under Australia, good and evil, human rights, immigration, law, politics

22 responses to “We ain’t that bad, really!

  1. fairlane

    No fair playing the kitten card!

  2. Nicely put, LE. I was thinking about this one my self.

  3. i would have thought a lawyer was capable of analytic thought, particularly in the legal field.

    laws are promulgated in every large society, and are not especially connected to democratic process.

    for the record, oz is an oligarchy, run by a few hundred members of a guild called politicians. not many ozzies understand this, possibly because people like you subscribe to the local dialect of english, called ‘newspeak’.

  4. pete m

    So you must be a bad lawyer to support these laws hey? Well count me in! I’d rather see a small hindrance to some, than terrorists allowed the freedom to operate in this country. If it takes a few weeks to figure out someone’s non/involvement in terrorists activities, tough!

    re risk, just ask the 90 or so aussies killed in bali about the “small” risk”.

  5. Pete, one part of being a lawyer is that you can see both sides of the story. It is correct that there is a balancing act between the safety of the public at large and the rights of an individual. This is why I am not a true civil libertarian myself – I think there must be a balance. I don’t think that you are bad, although I disagree with you, but I do think that Mr Ruddock is bad and cynical.

  6. Al Loomis, of course laws are made in different ways, and may be undemocratic – in fact, they are often undemocratic. I should think think that it went without saying really. But in our present situation, statute law is the end product of Parliament. One can argue about how representative Parliament really is, but that wasn’t the point of the post.

  7. LDU

    Once i was wearing my law school jumper on the train, and the man next to me said: “you’re going to earn a shitload for screwing lives up.”

    I think it’s common that lawyers are viewed in a negative light.

  8. pete m, once again you fail to distinguish between the particular factual issues and the underlying principles. The issue that informed people are up in arms about is not whether Haneef is or is not a terrorist or ‘potential’ terrorist (aren’t we all ‘potential’ terrorists though?) it’s the fact that the rule of law is being undermined through the misuse of administrative procedures, leaks, political positions, and today it seems the bail hearing.

    In other words, any lawyer who actually believes in the law as it applies in a common law democracy would surely have to agree that an accused should be able to know with certainty what the law is, how they are said to have breached it, to see the evidence against them, and to face their accuser before an impartial decision maker with the presumption of innocence intact.

    As soon as someone can be detained for an extended period on secret evidence which can never be tested by a court, you are no longer in a functioning democracy. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the “risk” to the community in this case.

  9. fairlane

    I think lawyers suffer much in the same way other professions do in that the “bad seeds” ruin it for everyone.

    Look at politicians, people say in a very matter of fact way, “they’re all criminals” without so much as giving it a second of thought. But surely they are All not criminals or we wouldn’t be talking about “losing” Democracy, there would be no Democracy.

    Also, I agree LE it’s the politicization of the law. So many Attorneys end up in Parliament or in Congress and the White House they end up getting it from both ends. “All politicians are crooks,” “All lawyers are crooks.” Double whammy.

    From my stand point, laws are by their very nature antithetical to Freedom. Laws restrict people, rarely do they ever “Free” people. And humans seem to have a special affinity for laws. We never have enough them, and so often they are reactionary without much thought being put into the potential long term consequences.

    Terrorism laws are a wonderful example. It’s fine as long as the majority of people being detained are named “Mohamed Haneef”, but I imagine more people might have a problem if they were detaining everyone named “Pete Smith.” And that’s the fear, they can if they choose because it’s “law” now, put in place by “Lawyers.”

  10. Patrick, I would agree with you there – you put it far more cogently than I (brain is not working today). As I said above, I agree with Pete that there is a risk from terrorism and that we need to manage that risk carefully.

    But the question is how we manage that risk, and whether we do so in a way that is consistent with the rule of law. If a magistrate had decided on evidence available to her that Dr Haneef was not entitled to bail, I would not have a problem with that. That is a decision which is open to her, and as I said above, there are always two sides to the story.

    It’s the way in which the Federal Government has essentially used immigration law to spirit this guy away, with no due process – no idea of the evidence against him, no right to legal counsel, no right to reply to the evidence against him… To me this is the very thing that lawyers should stand up against.

  11. Fairlane, that is an interesting point about freedom and law being antithetical. Personally, I believe that there must be some limits on freedom otherwise anarchy would result. But there needs to be reasonable bounds for law-making, which is why we have the rule of law to control the behaviour of the executive and the legislature.

  12. Jim Belshaw

    I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to some of these comments, then decided not to.

    When I was thinking about writing a post on the same topic, I was going to make just two points.

    The first was a historical one, the way that English law emerged in part as a device for controlling the state (aka monorachy, barons etc).

    The second that today when the state has become so all powerful, I find it interesting that it should be lawyers (I am not) who are acting to defend the interests of the individual against the state.

  13. For an interest in human rights and the development of a benevolent polity, give me the average lawyer over an average accountant any day. Mind you, I find the Commerce/Law types are a sub-species, and use “sub” in more sense than one.

  14. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link, Friday 20 July

  15. fairlane

    “Give me the average lawyer over an average accountant any day.”

    I’m with you Dave.

    When I think of Hell, I think of Sartre’s “No Exit”, but instead of spending Eternity with two women it would be a Neo-Con and an Accountant.


    Here in the states many Attorneys are fighting against the Juggernaut that is the Bush Administration on behalf of Individuals. In fact, they’ve won several important cases against them and their “Patriot Act” in Federal Court.

    But nothing seems to deter this lot as they continue to pass dubious law after dubious law.

    I was wondering LE if you, or another “Lawyerly Type”, might be interested in a new Executive Order issued by Bush recently.

    There is a lot of buzz going around the “Blogosphere” , but being a “Non-Lawyerly Type” I’d prefer to hear from an expert.

  16. Fairlane, interesting comment on the US. Another current example is Zimbabwe. There, at least as I see it, the legal system is and has been the last increasingly thin line between individual freedoms and an authoritarian state.

  17. Fairlane, that is a fascinating little executive order there. For those that haven’t followed the link, it blocks property of persons determined to have committed, or posing a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq or undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is going to stop insurgent violence in Iraq. Nor do I think it will deter people from continuing to commit terrorist bombings, kidnaps and killings. What it may do is deter some US citizens from donating to groups.

    The question I have is where do you draw the line? Clearly I abhor the suicide bombers, the people who kidnap, the people who kill with roadside bombs, torture and guns, and the Shi’a and Sunni radicals who practice violence against each other.

    But what about, for example, a Kurdish organisation which wanted to split away from Iraq? I have some sympathy for this. If my people had been gassed I would want to split away too. In fact, the Kurds have long wanted their own territory, but although they have an identifiable “country”, they have the misfortune to be spanning various different countries who don’t want to give them independence. I’d prefer that a Kurdish independence movement didn’t use violence or promote violence…but in such struggles, it’s very difficult not to do so.

    The other issue is the criteria “poses a significant risk of” committing acts of violence. What does that mean? The person has written an e-mail saying “I hate GWB, I want to kill him”? Or some Baghdad based petty warlord with a stash of guns and a hatred of those of a different Islamic sect who has planned an attack on a mosque? Obviously, there’s a whole spectrum of behaviour there.

    Finally, like the provisions in the present case, the executive order purports to freeze the assets of those who have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts of violence. What does that mean? Does it mean that someone who left his mobile SIM card with his cousin has supplied goods or services in support of an act of violence?

    Food for thought, Fairlane. I’ll have to do some more research into the issue, as I’m not familiar with the area of US government executive orders!!!

  18. could someone offer some evidence that oz is a democracy? i see none, while the activities of the government seem typical of a parliamentary monarchy drifting into fascism.

    just glancing at the constitution, i see no evidence of rule “by the people”, plenty for rule by the governor general. you all agree you you live in a democracy, while complaining steadily at all the evidence to the contrary. this is insanity, or a culture founded on hypocrisy.

  19. fairlane

    Thanks for checking it out LE.

    It seems the general consensus is that this law is ominous because of it’s ambiguity.

    If I donate money to someone who donated money to someone who donated money to someone who incidentally didn’t like the United States, can they seize my assets?

    And once they do, how do you defend yourself? If someone tries to assist or defend you (Attorneys, family, friends, human right’s groups etc) are they violating the law as well?

  20. Hi Fairlane, one of the big Aussie blogs, Larvatus Prodeo, has a post on it too.

    Far too broadly drafted if you ask me. Predicated on the executive having good faith, which I don’t think they do.

  21. fairlane


    This is a Democracy?

    I honestly wonder if Bush will do something so he does not have to leave office at the end of next year.

  22. fairlane

    Thanks by the way LE, I’m forwarding that link to some others.

    I have not seen or heard one news organization talking about this Order.

    The “Liberal Media” my arse.

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