In the 1960s the need for permanent attention to issues of law reform was keenly felt throughout the Commonwealth. In the words of Mr Brand, then Premier of Western Australia, ‘[w]e inherited a substantial body of English law in our foundation year, 1829, and many important areas of law are inadequately covered by statute’ [The West Australian, 9 January 1968]. The establishment of the English and Scottish Law Commissions in 1965 was one of the inspirations for a permanent law reform body in Western Australia.
The first official law reform body in Western Australia, the Law Reform Committee, was established by a Cabinet decision of September 1967. After discussions with key stakeholder groups, Arthur Griffith, then Minister for Justice, and the Cabinet decided that the Committee would be constituted by three part-time members: a private practitioner; a representative of the University of Western Australia's Law School; and a representative of the Crown Law Department.
The founding members were Mr Barry Rowland, a senior partner in a legal firm, Dr Eric Edwards, Reader in Law at the University of Western Australia, and Mr Clyde Langoulant, Senior Legal Assistant with the Crown Law Department. The first meeting of the Committee was held on 15 January 1968.
Initially, the Law Reform Committee acted as a part-time body. However, it soon became clear to the members that the Committee required permanent status if it was to effectively perform the role of continuing law reform.
In 1969, Dr Edwards, the academic member of the Committee, embarked on a study visit to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and India. He met with officials of a number of permanent law reform bodies in those countries to discuss and observe the daily operations of those institutions. Upon his return to Australia, Dr Edwards’ first-hand observations and experiences were invaluable in aiding the Law Reform Committee to propose the establishment of a permanent law reform body in Western Australia.
On 31 October 1972 the Law Reform Committee was granted permanent status as the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia by the Law Reform Commission Act 1972 (WA). (The Committee was formally reconstituted as a Commission upon proclamation of the Law Reform Commission Act 1972 (WA) on 19 January 1973.) The new Commission was established as a statutory body to operate independently from the executive and legislative branches of government. The requirements for the position of the academic member of the Commission were expanded to allow for the appointment of senior legal academics from any Western Australian university. In 1978 amendment to the Act permitted the appointment of two full-time members and increased the membership of the Commission to five.
Throughout its history, the Commission has been fortunate to enjoy the contributions and services of many outstanding members. David Malcolm, former Chief Justice of Western Australia, served as a member of the Law Reform Commission from February 1975 to January 1982; and Wayne Martin, now Chief Justice of Western Australia, served as a member October 1996 to September 2001. Other past members include: Richard Harding, the inaugural Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia, served on the Commission from January 1974 to January 1977; Daryl Williams, former Federal Attorney-General, who served on the Commission from January 1982 to January 1986; Robert French, now Chief Justice of the High Court, served on the Commission from January 1986 to November 1986; Robert Cock, now a Judge of the District Court, served on the Commission from October 1996 to September 1999; Lindy Jenkins, now a Judge of the Supreme Court, served on the Commission from December 1999 to August 2001; Ralph Simmonds, formerly a Judge of the Supreme Court, served on the Commission from January 1997 to February 2004; Joseph McGrath, now a Judge of the Supreme Court served on the Commission from November 2008 to February 2010; and Gillian Braddock, now a judge of the District Court, served as a member from October 2002 to November 2008.
In 1997, the Commission radically restructured its operations and reduced its full-time staff to one-the Executive Officer-who has charge of the day-to-day business of the Commission. In October 2004 the Commission also engaged a full-time Executive Assistant. The Commission engaged additional temporary staff to provide research, writing, editing, and administrative services as required. This allowed individuals who would not previously have been able to participate in the process of law reform to bring their unique and special skills to the Commission’s law reform activities.
On 1 July 2014, responsibility for the Commission was transferred to the Department of the Attorney General (DotAG). DotAG is now tasked with providing all administrative support to the Commission from its own resources. This continues on from a previous service agreement with DotAG that saw administrative assistance provided to the Commission in areas including accounting, information technology provision and payroll. The Commission’s external researchers and project writers are sourced through an open and transparent tender process, thus ensuring that the best available resources can be utilised by the Commission when outsourcing some or all of its requirements.
Last updated: 30-Jan-2017
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