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Darwin Barrister Duncan McConnel powerful advocate for justice

On 31 December 2015, Duncan McConnel’s 7-year career with the Law Council of Australia (“LCA”) will draw to a peaceful close, drawing the line under an historic 2015 presidential year.

The LCA was established in 1933 and is the peak national representative body of the Australian legal profession. It represents about 60,000 legal practitioners nationwide. In addition to representing the legal profession at a national level the LCA advises governments, courts and federal agencies on ways that the law and justice system can be improved for the benefit of the community. The LCA also represents the Australian legal profession internationally.

Law Society Northern Territory (“Society”) president Mr Tass Liveris said, “Mr McConnel’s entire LCA career is a rare and outstanding achievement, but his presidency in particular has been a significant and historic opportunity for the Territory. His great success in bringing issues that have a major impact in the Territory onto the national and international stage is what has made his presidency so remarkable.”

Mr Liveris said “Mr McConnel recently chaired a symposium in Sydney on the disproportionately high imprisonment rates of Indigenous Australians. The symposium was attended by an impressive array of legal and policy heavyweights from across Australia, including two Chief Justices and the NT Attorney-General John Elferink. It is Mr McConnel’s drive to see real commitment to address this issue that will be his legacy.”

Mr McConnel has long advocated for action on this urgent issue and he was instrumental in convening a joint Australian Bar Association, LCA meeting in Darwin in July 2013. Mr McConnel’s momentum on this topic continued to build throughout his presidency.

Mr McConnel spoke to the Western Australia Law Summer School in February 2015 describing indigenous imprisonment as “not just a local issue, it’s a national crisis.”

Mr Liveris said “Territorians are also indebted to Mr McConnel for his efforts in relation to legal aid funding. 2015 saw an amazing reversal of some serious funding cuts and Mr McConnel’s knowledge of the impact these cuts would have on Territorians in the courts no-doubt fuelled efforts to see them reversed. Whilst legal assistance still remains seriously under-funded, Mr McConnel’s ability to speak on behalf of Territorians and all Australians about this essential service that underpins justice in our community has kept the issue on the table.”

Mr McConnel also showed great leadership in responding to other national and international issues including the changing nature of legal practice globally and locally, particularly its impact on access to justice in regional Australia. Mr McConnel was at the helm of the LCA during times of significant change to national security laws and the balance between protection of individual freedoms and community safety, as well as the uniform legal profession in New South Wales and Victoria. He has also championed great efforts in responding to the need for diversity in the legal profession.

Mr McConnel was the president of the Society in 2007-2008 and in 2008 he became the Society’s representative on the LCA. In November 2009 he was elected as a member of the LCA executive and has held several positions on the executive since that time. When Mr McConnel’s presidency formally concludes on 31 December 2015, he will return to full-time practice at the Northern Territory Bar. He is succeeded by Stuart Clark of Law Firms Australia with Fiona McLeod from the Victorian Bar assuming the role of president-elect.

The LCA has a long and proud history, led by many exemplary legal professionals including a former Attorney-General, a former Australian High Court Chief Justice and a former Governor-General. In joining those ranks, Mr McConnel is only the second LCA president elected from the Northern Territory profession, behind Hon Justice Stephen Southwood who was president in 2004/2005.

Mr Liveris said, “It is not often that Territorians get this opportunity, but Duncan has demonstrated yet again that Territorians can have real and tangible impact and we are all thankful for the efforts that Mr McConnel and the LCA have made and continue to make in supporting justice in our community.”

The Law Council Indigenous Imprisonment Symposium Communiqe can be found here

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