The president of the South Australian Bar Association has ripped into the Premier Mike Rann and his Police Minister Kevin Foley for attacking defence lawyers arising from an alleged assault on Foley. But Mark Livesey QC has hosed down a report in The Australian today that he accused both men of behaving like they are running a government in Libya or Syria.

Livesey told Indaily the premier and Foley risked undermining fundamental rights by personally attacking barristers and defence lawyers. Foley last week defended himself in state parliament against claims made in an Adelaide court that he had tried to force himself on two young women outside a city bar immediately before an incident, from which a man has been charged with assaulting him. The Premier later made reference to a “bikie lawyer”.

In relation to the fundamental right of an accused people to be represented by a lawyer, The Australian story today quoted Livesey as saying: “This is essential to the rule of law which, unlike the system of government in countries like Libya or Syria, keeps the executive in check and underpins our democratic freedoms.”

Today he was less robust about making such a comparison with Libya and Syria. “I would prefer to say that if our leaders don’t observe the rule of law and all of the fundamental rights associated with it, there is a risk that they undermine the rule of law, other than by proper political process such as legislation,” he said.

“There is a real risk that what the Police Minister did fail to observe the line between defending himself appropriately and commenting on the evidence to be called in a criminal trial. We’re not suggesting he did cross that line but there is a real danger in politicising a criminal trial.

“The second thing is the Premier’s attack on the barrister representing the accused … really he tried to denigrate the barrister. He went so far as to suggest the barrister had given testimony about the matter … There were any number of political responses he could have made to support the police minister.

“But rather than do that he really attacked the lawyers, misunderstanding that the barrister concerned is acting on instructions, and there is really no need to denigrate him. All of that shows really a misunderstanding of what are pretty fundamental rights for accused people and the role of the lawyer in defending those rights, rather than becoming immersed in the client’s affairs.

“It’s one thing to say that a lawyer is acting on instructions, it’s another thing to say the lawyer is giving testimony. He’s not doing that.”

In a Twitter feed yesterday, Rann said he was “bemused and amused by the sensitive souls at the Bar Association. They seem more concerned about the rights of their members than the rights of victims of crime.”