Law Week 2017 Justice Journeys

Peter Carne

From law student in the '70s to Queensland's Public Trustee, Peter has had quite the Justice Journey

The Public Trustee of Queensland is a statutory role which oversees the work of more than 600 staff at the Public Trustee’s 16 regional offices. His unique position is regarded as a Corporate Sole, which is a public office established under the The Public Trustee Act (1978).

The Public Trustee undertakes a diverse range of activities in Queensland from deceased estate administration, making free Wills and Enduring Power of Attorneys (EPAs) and financial management for people with incapacity to manage their financial affairs, as well as trust administration.

Peter Carne is currently the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Public Trustee of Queensland. We asked him about his Justice Journey and advice he has for law people starting out on their justice careers.

Peter studied law at the University of Queensland in the 1970s. “At that time the University of Queensland was the only location in the state where you could study law, it was an exciting time to be a law student, as there were many social and political issues to grapple with,” he said.

“At that time, myself and many of my fellow students were passionate about what was going on in the world and in Queensland. Conscription to Vietnam was a huge issue, as was apartheid in South Africa and in Queensland the government of the day had put a ban on public demonstrations.

"I have had the privilege to work with many extraordinary people during my career, and help those in society, who without support would not have had a legal voice."

“It was in these formative times, that I formed friendships that have lasted a lifetime, and this was when I became aware of the importance of the legal system and people’s right to access justice."

After completing his studies and travelling overseas, Peter set up his own law practice with two friends - Wayne Goss, who would later become the Premier of Queensland and Bob Downey. One of the aims of their fledgling law practice was to ensure legal representation for the marginalised who could not afford access to justice.

“Our firm did a large amount of legal aid work for people in need, who could otherwise not afford legal representation. We also worked with aboriginal communities in seeking deeds of grant of trust for their lands,” Peter said.

“During this time I was proud to be a legal observer for the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, and privileged to be able to support the establishment of the Caxton Legal Centre, where I volunteered for over 15 years.

"I formed friendships that have lasted a lifetime, and this was when I became aware of the importance of the legal system and people’s right to access justice."

“I have had the privilege to work with many extraordinary people during my career, and help those in society, who without support would not have had a legal voice. I was fortunate to be able to act for Eddie Mabo in Queensland, prior to his claim in the High Court.

“Another case that stands out for me was acting for the successful overturning of the conviction and the subsequent release of Kelvin Condren, an Indigenous man charged with murder, based on a confession he was coerced to give.

“We proved that Kelvin was in custody at the time the murder happened, and he could therefore not have committed the crime. Dean Wills, Queensland Attorney-General granted him a pardon."

Later in his career, Peter was appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Law Society.

He has held a number of public roles including Commissioner of the Queensland Legal Aid Commission and Director of the College of Law (Queensland) as well as President of the Queensland Law Society, Chair of the Queensland Law Society Specialist Accreditation Board and Director of the Queensland Law Foundation.

In 2003, Peter was awarded the Centenary Medal for his contribution to the legal profession and in 2017 he was presented with life membership of the Queensland Law Society.

As the Public Trustee of Queensland, Peter is the Trustee of six philanthropic trusts and he is extremely passionate about the importance of philanthropy within the Queensland community.

“Supporting philanthropy and assisting Queenslanders who are incapacitated to live and function in our community is what I love most about my role,” he said.

“One of the most important functions of the Public Trustee is providing financial administration for people living in the community who don’t have the capacity to manage their financial affairs. Ensuring that they are taken care of is a huge part of what we do."

Peter’s recommendation for those commencing a career in law is not to specialise too early.

“It’s important to experience as many facets of law as possible before you specialise because there are so many fascinating areas to choose from,” he said.

He also advises young legal professionals to stand by their principles.

“Stay true to your values and make sure you take care of your physical and emotional wellbeing to ensure you have the resilience required to best serve your clients,” he said.

“If you passionately give to your profession it will reward you with the knowledge that you can make a difference in many people’s lives, which is a unique and humbling experience.”

You can read more about the Public Trustee, their services and work at their website.