What is it with Peter Faris? The self styled maverick just loves grabbing a headline. That is the only way one could explain his bizarre comments yesterday, that there is a major drug usage problem among lawyers, and that they should be drug tested like AFL footballers.

Mr Faris’ comments were made on the ABC – one would have thought the national broadcaster, which is not in the habit of running sensationalized stories in the manner of the Daily Telegraph, would have asked for Mr Faris to back his outlandish claims, before they put him to air.

But instead the ABC was happy with Mr Faris’ vague assurance that he has “information” from other lawyers, and knows “anecdotally” that a number of high flying Melbourne and Sydney lawyers have been using cocaine for a number of years. Gee, that’s empirical evidence for you!

But wait there was more to come from the former head of the National Crime Authority, who in 1990 resigned after only seven months in the job, citing ill health, and who, while Chairman of the NCA, had been stopped by Victorian Police outside a brothel with money in his hand. It should be noted as a matter of fairness that no charges were ever laid in relation to this matter and, and Mr Faris’ supporters say he was set up.

Mr Faris told the ABC that he has seen lawyers who “don’t look well, they’re sweaty, they seem to be hyped up.” And they are “erratic”. “Some days you can talk to them and they’re normal and sensible. Other days they’re quite unreasonable,” observes Mr Faris.

Of course, Mr Faris himself has a reputation for being aggressive, bitter and twisted, and maybe his off the wall comments to the ABC have to be viewed in that light.

A profile on Mr Faris in The Age on 15 October 2006 contained these two withering criticisms of Mr Faris. “He’s really overtly aggressive and very unpopular,” said one former defence lawyer. And, then there is a colleague of says of Faris, “He’s got a fatal character flaw and that is he despises just about everyone and he thinks he’s underestimated and undervalued. He has a brilliant mind, he’s a clever man, but he’s a bitter, twisted man.”

The bottom line on Peter Faris is this. He’s marketing himself as the “shock jock” of the legal profession. He wants to be an Alan Jones or a John Laws. He is the contrarian who makes outlandish comments to stir things up. The man who thinks that torturing suspects is ok sometimes (a view he holds in common with that other rapacious headline hunting lawyer, Mirko Bagaric).

The ABC, as a reputable news source, should have no business quoting him as some sort of authority on the behavior of other lawyers, unless he can substantiate his claims with facts. It’s a bit like asking Alan Jones for his views on John Howard – you wouldn’t expect a sensible answer, would you?

Peter Faris, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns.

An Open Letter to the Chairman of the Victorian Bar Council

Dear Michael Shand QC,

Yesterday you described my comments about drug problems amongst your senior colleagues as “a nonsense” and “extreme and unsubstantiated”.

That is an excellent and intelligent response and I expected nothing less from you: the only problem is that you did not deny my allegations.

As you have now entered the media debate, I invite you to answer the following questions.

Is the present condition of Peter Hayes QC (who is on life support in an Adelaide hospital) a nonsense to you? Are his circumstances “extreme and unsubstantiated”?

Were you aware that about 6-7 years ago prominent solicitor Andrew Fraser was arrested for cocaine offences where police had bugged his office and telephones? Were you aware of the names of the senior barristers alleged to have been identified on the Fraser tapes as being cocaine users? Were these names a nonsense to you?

Can you explain to me why, if footballers can be drug tested, that it is “extreme” to suggest that barristers could also be tested? What makes barristers so different? And if they were tested, could that have saved Peter Hayes? Is this, too, a nonsense?

I know that all of the above are rhetorical questions – but I am sure you are intelligent enough to deal with the thrust of my argument.

I have already received a lot of email and personal comments supporting my views. These people must have it wrong too. After speaking to the media over the last two days I can tell you that virtually nobody there thinks the Victorian Bar is a coke-free zone.

Yours faithfully

Peter Faris QC
Owen Dixon Chambers
17 May 2007