Non-lawyer members of the public have been appointed for the first time to help investigate complaints against lawyers.
Attorney General Joe Berinson said the involvement of non-lawyers in disciplinary proceedings was one of a number of reforms which will come into effect on February 1.
"The whole system for dealing with complaints against lawyers has been totally revamped, with greater disciplinary powers being made available, including the ability to order lawyers to make good any harm or inconvenience to their clients," Mr Berinson said.
"Including non-lawyers in that process opens it up to outside scrutiny and should enhance public confidence."
Mr Berinson said the community representatives covered a wide cross-section of occupations and expertise.
They included the director of the Kingswood Centre for Applied Ethics (Mr Colin Honey), a company director (Ms Sandra Milligan), an educationalist (Mr Michael Megaw), a customer liaison officer (Ms Shalima Mahomet-Fryda), a journalist (Mr Peter Kennedy), the assistant Commonwealth ombudsman in WA (Mr Frank Hedges), and the director of the State Theatre Company (Ms Jenny McNae).
Where complaints and disciplinary action were presently both dealt with by the Barristers' Board, Mr Berinson said the two parts of the process would be separated under the new system.
A special complaints officer, supported by a complaints committee, would investigate complaints for the Legal Practice Board, and where illegal or unprofessional conduct was apparent, the matter would be referred to a new and separate disciplinary tribunal.
Both the complaints committee and the disciplinary tribunal would include community representatives.
The disciplinary tribunal, to be chaired by Western Australian Solicitor-General Kevin Parker, would have wide disciplinary powers, including the ability to impose fines of up to $10,000 and to suspend lawyers from practice for up to two years.
It could also require lawyers for the first time to compensate clients for work not properly done, and order a practitioner to undertake further work at no cost or pay to have the work done by another firm.
Mr Berinson said another important change was the ability for legal practices to be examined even where a complaint had not been received, ensuring the profession was open to scrutiny at all times.
He said there had been an increase in the number of inquiries and complaints received by the Barristers' Board in recent years, from under 900 in 1989-90 to almost 1,300 in 1991-92.
Most did not involve breaches of professional standards, but were due to uncertainty, misunderstanding, or a lack of communication; however, the rise was still a concern.
The deputy president of the WA Bar Association, Mr Christopher Pullin QC, will head the new Complaints Committee.