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About the Board and Commissioner
The Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner are independent statutory authorities responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in Victoria. We are accountable to the Victorian Parliament. The responsible minister is the Attorney-General, The Hon. Jill Hennessy MP.
Fiona McLeay is the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner and CEO of the Board.
About the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner
The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner was originally established in 2005 under the Legal Profession Act 2004. The functions and powers of the Commissioner now come under the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014.
The Commissioner aims to:
- develop and maintain an independent, impartial and accessible system for managing complaints against legal practitioners
- be accountable and transparent in dealing with our stakeholders
- enhance community and consumer understanding of legal practice
- work with the legal profession to ensure that legal services in Victoria meet the highest standards of excellence
- assist practitioners in understanding, managing and meeting consumer expectations, and
- continually identify best practices in the provision of legal services.
About the Victorian Legal Services Board
The Victorian Legal Services Board is an independent statutory authority, responsible for regulation of the legal profession in Victoria. Originally established under the Legal Profession Act 2004, the Board’s role and functions now come under the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014.
The Board’s aims are to:
- ensure the effective regulation of the legal profession and the maintenance of professional standards
- address the concerns of clients of law practices and lawyers through the regulatory system and provide for the protection of consumers of legal services
- ensure the adequate management of trust accounts, and
- ensure that the Legal Profession Uniform Law is implemented effectively in Victoria.
Regulatory Approach Statement
Our Regulatory Approach Statement provides a clear statement of how the we seek to perform our role as regulators of the legal profession in Victoria. It outlines our operational approach to delivering on our legislative responsibilities by explaining how we set regulatory priorities, make resource allocation decisions and apply the range of regulatory tools at our disposal.
The legislative requirements that we must meet are set out in the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 and the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Schedule 1 to the Act). We seek to discharge our legislative responsibilities in accordance with the objectives of the Act and the Uniform Law and in a way that:
- promotes consistency amongst Uniform Law jurisdictions, including through directions and guidance from the Legal Services Council and the Commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation; and
- is consistent with Victorian Government policies and objectives, including the Attorney-General’s Statement of Expectations.
We understand that lawyers and the broader Victorian community expect that we will be efficient and effective regulators of the legal profession. As such, we target our regulatory resources towards activities that address the areas of greatest potential harm to consumers of legal services. In doing so, we aim to strike a balance between responding to immediate issues and identifying emerging areas of concern.
Responding to information we receive through complaints about lawyers, or from lawyers directly, are core activities that our staff perform on a daily basis. In resourcing these immediate issues, we prioritise issues of high risk while looking for ways to streamline our response to lower risks of harm.
We use the data collected in the course of our work to identify future trends, and to design programs of regulatory work to proactively address emerging risks. These programs may also include strategic education to the profession. In seeking to strike a balanced approach to resourcing immediate and emerging issues, we are mindful that we operate in partnership with other regulators under the Legal Profession Uniform Law framework.
Therefore, we appreciate that we need to commit resources towards improving consistency in the regulation of the legal profession across Uniform Law jurisdictions, in line with the strategic priorities of the Legal Services Council.
Our corporate strategy illustrates our clear direction towards ensuring we are an effective regulator of the Victorian legal profession.
Our goal is to maintain and enhance public trust and confidence in the legal profession in Victoria. We do this because the integrity of the legal profession is fundamental to the legitimacy of the justice system and the maintenance and protection of the rule of law.
We achieve these goals through our approach to regulating the legal profession, our stewardship role, and our organisational aims.
Statement of Expectations
As part of the Victorian Government's pursuit of efficiencies and improvements across the public sector, the Victorian Attorney-General issued us with a Statement of Expectations for the 2019-21 period. Four areas where identified where changes could benefit lawyers and consumers of legal services. Both the Statement of Expectations and our initial response are publicly available.
The Board comprises a Chairperson, three elected lawyer members and three lay members. The Chairperson and lay members of the Board are nominated by the Attorney-General and appointed by the Governor in Council for a four-year term. Lawyer members are elected by lawyers who are registered on the Board’s electoral roll, also for a four-year term. One lawyer member is a barrister (advocate member) and two are solicitors (non-advocate members). The day-to-day activities of the Board are managed by the Chief Executive Officer.
Ms Fiona Bennett – Non-lawyer member, Chairperson
Fiona is a non-executive director of Hills Ltd, Select Harvests Ltd and BWX Ltd. She is a Chartered Accountant with extensive experience in commercial and financial management, governance, risk management and audit. Fiona has held senior executive positions at BHP Billiton Ltd and Coles Group Ltd, and has been Chief Financial Officer of several organisations in the health sector. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Ms Jennifer Batrouney AM QC – Barrister (advocate) member
Jennifer is a barrister with 30 years’ experience, mainly in equity, commercial, superannuation and revenue matters, and has a substantial practice in the not-for-profit sector. Appointed a QC in 2000, Jennifer is a past President of the Australian Bar Association, the Victorian Bar and the Tax Bar Association. Jennifer is also the inaugural chair of the Law Council Charities and Not for Profits committee, a director of the Charity Law Association of Australia and New Zealand and inaugural Chair of the Australian Bar Association Tax Committee. She is a member of the Melbourne Law School Advisory Council and the Melbourne Law School Tax Group Advisory Board. She is also a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Jennifer was awarded an AM in June 2020 for significant service to the law, to the legal profession, and to women lawyers.
Mr Geoff Bowyer – Solicitor (non-advocate) member
Geoff is an accredited business law specialist, and principal of a Central Victorian law practice that specialises in mediation and alternative dispute resolution techniques. Over the past approximately 40 years Geoff has built up a broad portfolio of legal experience spanning the public, private and corporate sectors. He offers his time as mentor through both the Law Institute of Victoria and the University of Melbourne Law School. Geoff is a past President of the Law Institute of Victoria and former executive member of the Law Council of Australia, a current Director of Bendigo Community Health, and a board member on several Bendigo-based community organisations. Geoff is also a regular commentator on ABC Regional radio about legal issues.
Ms Liz Harris – Solicitor (non-advocate) member
Liz is a lawyer who has specialised in consumer complaints relating to lawyers, acting for both lawyers and consumers. She is a recognised expert in costs law as co-author of Quick on Costs, the pre-eminent Australian text. She has conducted her own legal practice, been a sessional member of the VCAT Legal Practice list, a member of the Victorian Supreme Court Costs Committee, chair of the LIV Advisory Board on costs law specialisation, and chair of LIV Cost Lawyers section. Liz conducts a consultancy advising government and corporate legal departments about best practice in managing external lawyers. She is regularly engaged as an expert witness regarding best practice in management of legal work and costs in class actions and other significant litigation.
Dr Lynne Williams AM – Non-lawyer member
Lynne is an economist with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector. She is the Deputy Chair of the Essential Services Commission of South Australia and a Commissioner with both the Commonwealth Grants Commission and the Victorian Building Authority. Lynne has previously held senior executive roles within several government departments and is the former Chair of the Victorian Government Procurement Board. Lynne has Masters degrees in economics from the University of Melbourne and the London School of Economics, a PhD from Monash University and is also a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia.
Ms Catherine Wolthuizen – Non-lawyer member
Catherine brings her considerable experience as a consumer advocate and ombudsman to the Board. She is the Customer Advocate at NAB, where her role includes making decisions about complex and sensitive complaints and advising on how to improve complaints handling and customer outcomes more broadly. She is also a Board member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, independent consumer representative to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and Chair of the Victoria-based Consumer Policy Research Centre, a specialist consumer policy think-tank. Catherine was previously an Ombudsman and Head of Market Affairs at the UK’s Financial Ombudsman Service, and is a former CEO of the Consumer Law Centre Victoria (later the Consumer Action Legal Centre). She was Senior Policy Officer at Choice, and is a former Chair of the Consumers Federation of Australia. Her overseas experience includes running international human rights legal NGO, Fair Trials, and the UK’s whistleblower NGO, and she was a member of the Legal Services Consumer Panel in England – the expert advisory body to the UK’s Legal Services Board.