Over the past month there has been some good news and some less positive news regarding tertiary legal education. About three weeks ago we received welcome news that the University of Tasmania and the Centre for Legal Studies will work together to deliver the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice for semester one in 2023. It is great to see that the university has listened to the concerns of the Law Society, the Legal Profession and the Judiciary in relation to the value of the Centre for Legal Studies and the superior practical legal training it provides. I look forward to the Centre for Legal Studies and the University working in partnership into the future to ensure that Tasmania continues to have the best practical legal training available.
On a less positive note, I continue to hear very worrying reports of an emerging crisis in the Law School, with a poor educational environment for students, teaching staff under immense strain and continued inflexibility in terms of the delivery model. It is almost six months since Law Society Executive Director Luke Rheinberger and I first met with the Dean of the Law School, Professor Michael Stuckey, to express concerns regarding changes in the delivery of the LLB and the dramatic loss of experienced academic teaching staff. Since then, there have been numerous meetings between the Dean and other senior university representatives with concerned stakeholders, including current students, academic teachers and senior representatives from the Legal Profession and the Judiciary. However, I am yet to see any meaningful change in response to those concerns and the situation only seems to be worsening. At least 15 academic staff have left the Law School since 2020; 9 since July last year. Dissatisfaction and disquiet amongst law students has increased. I sincerely hope that the concerns of students that have been expressed through a variety of forums over recent weeks are listened to and necessary changes are made to address those concerns in the very near future. Notwithstanding the recent dramatic loss of experienced academic staff, leading senior academics who have a proven track record and have been instrumental in the Law School achieving excellence in teaching and learning outcomes over decades remain at the Law School. It is time for those in leadership to recognise the value and experience these senior academics possess and to seek their assistance and advice to navigate the Law School out of the current crisis.
On a more positive note, on 10 March the Law Society, in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, hosted an excellent forum on legal and other issues arising from the Ukraine Crisis. The forum was delivered in person from the Murray Street office and via Zoom to around 130 people including interstate and international attendees. The panel of Tasmanian subject-matter experts included Professor Tim McCormack, Dr Matt Killingsworth and Dr Tamara Wood and was moderated by barrister Regina Weiss. The forum covered a range of issues including the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court and the international refugee crisis. I would like to thank Regina, the panel members and Amal Cutler, Shelley Harwood and Luke Rheinberger from the Law Society for their efforts in organising and delivering such an excellent and timely forum.
Finally I would like to congratulate the State Government for its decision to further investigate whether there are suitable sites for the Burnie court redevelopment in the Burnie CBD before committing to the proposed relocation and redevelopment of the former University campus in Mooreville Road. Government representatives have worked very hard to address the Law Society’s concerns about the difficulties that the Mooreville Road location may present to legal practitioners, particularly those based in the Burnie CBD. As a result of that consultation process, substantial office and other facilities for use by members of the legal profession were to be provided to ameliorate the difficulties for practitioners having to spend greater time traveling to the proposed new site. However, we remain concerned about the impact that the location of the Mooreville site may have in terms of court users who rely on public transport to access the Court. Accordingly, it is a sensible move for the Government to have another look at whether a suitable site can be found in the Burnie CBD before committing to the alternative site.