Peter Faris has the sort of politics that makes me shudder. He’s a right-wing type who comes to the defence of the indefensible – namely the Howard government’s outrageous antics in the Haneef case and other things – when no-one else will. And he is the man who asserted after the death of prominent Melbourne lawyer Peter Hayes, wrongly and distastefully in my view, that illicit drug taking among barristers is rife.

But today I am going to defend Faris. Why? Because the Victorian Bar Council is apparently threatening him with disciplinary action over those comments he made earlier this year about drug abuse among barristers. No doubt the Bar Council thinks Faris somehow has brought the profession into disrepute and that he has failed to back his allegations with hard evidence.

But what happened to freedom of speech? It amuses me that lawyers love to champion the right to liberty but when it comes to their own mavericks they are none too keen on it. Sure Faris might hold an extreme view, and yes he might have overstated his case. But hey, that’s the nature of public debate sometimes.

Law Societies and Bar Associations around Australia are notoriously uncomfortable with their members becoming media commentators. It is one thing to be profiled as a high flying, glamorous silk, — that’s ok – but quite another to have your own column and radio show. That’s not ok, for some reason. Presumably it’s too vulgar!

And there’s a touch of hypocrisy in chasing after Faris. Barristers, and lawyers generally, gossip continually about each other and say the most the appalling things about their colleagues. That’s human nature. All Faris did was to air the dirty linen in public.

If Faris has defamed anyone or committed some other form of offence then let the law deal with him. But how about the Bar Council grows up and moves on, instead of being determined to turn Faris into a martyr.

Oh and by the way, one rumour floating around at the moment is that Faris has been engaged by former solicitor and now tell-all author Andrew Fraser to defend Fraser’s right to keep the proceeds he makes from the sale of his book about drugs and the law, against prosecution claims that Fraser shouldn’t be allowed to keep the proceeds of crime.

If it’s true it really is a delightful irony, given that Fraser was jailed for cocaine trafficking!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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