The  Hon T F Bathurst AC Chief Justice Of New South Wales gave a recent speech for the opening of the Law Term 2018 entitled ‘The Place Of Lawyers In Politics’. Chief Justice Bathurst spoke eloquently about the important role of lawyers in society and public debate. His Honour made clear that lawyers have responsibilities.

As the beneficiaries of a legal education, lawyers belong to a privileged class who can navigate the complexities of legislative drafting and understand the concrete implications of policy decisions, with the obligation to use this knowledge to the advantage of society. As a class who profits from the monopoly on legal practice, lawyers may repay their debt to society by taking on responsibilities as guardians of democracy and the rule of law.[7]

His Honour then discussed the intersection of a lawyer’s duty to uphold the rule of law and “international  threats” in his review of events in the United States Of America in 2017.

In some ways, international threats to the rule of law may be a call to arms for lawyers. Last year, as American lawyers mobilised to assist detained travellers affected by the Trump administration’s travel ban, crowds cheered outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, congregations at the San Francisco airport chanted “let the lawyers in” and the media headlines reflected something they had not in decades – an appreciation for the legal profession.[9]

Judicial independence is fundamental to the rule of law. His Honour addresses this at length in his speech, with a focus on the crucial function of this impartiality in the operation of the legal system.

…the separation of powers ensures that the judicial officers who resolve those disputes both are in fact free from political influence and are seen to be independent and impartial. [16]

It is clear that courts and judges have no role to play in partisan politics. [17]

A lawyer’s duty to their client and mechanisms such as the ‘cab rank rule’ allow for the “unpopular” to be legally represented.

Furthermore, it is not desirable that lawyers start being assigned political labels or affiliations, a practice which, as demonstrated in the United States, has the propensity to bleed into the judiciary.[30]

Chief Justice Bathurst continues  in [55]-[58] by discussing theoretical approaches to the  rule of law in detail, with the use of  South Africa during the apartheid period as an example.

Depending on one’s understanding of the rule of law, it may provide “the framework within which we can enjoy our rights and freedoms”, but does not necessarily guarantee them.[58]

His Honour concludes with a reminder for individual lawyers.

Informed debate on issues is fundamental to the successful operation of a democratic system, provided the lawyer’s contribution is not such as to bring the profession or the rule of law into disrepute