Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Stephen Franks: No excuses when it comes to the law

The Attorney-General has to be the highest law officer in the land, Cabinet's legal conscience.

So when questions arose about the legalities of his dealings, David Parker had to resign his position.

Rightly, he did.

Thousands of ordinary business people probably make false annual returns like he is alleged to have done, because they regard the return formalities as just more of the meaningless compliance redtape in which they are drowning.

But we lawyers know that we can not do that.

A lawyer who signs false statements or even blank documents knows that no excuse is acceptable.

The profession is privileged to be a gatekeeper. Our certificates are taken as near conclusive proof of facts under scores of acts and regulations. The price is scrupulous care about the veracity of our certificates.

There is an interesting potential consequence.

I think most lawyers will be unequivocal about Parker having to stand down as Attorney-General, no matter how much he was admired. They might have less concern about him retaining his other portfolios.

But eventually, if he is tried and convicted for making a false statement under section 377 of the Companies Act, he must not thereafter "directly or indirectly be concerned in or take part in the management of a company" unless the court says otherwise.

That might cramp his style as Minister of Energy and shareholder of the state generators.

* Stephen Franks is a commercial lawyer and former Act MP.

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