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Australia Agonising Over the Problem of Cocaine Use by Lawyers

White powder on black silk. The imagery is powerful and the prospect frightening. Australia is currently wracked by reports that many lawyers have turned to cocaine in a big way, throwing the entire legal system in disarray.

Peter Hayes, for instance, once hailed as a brilliant advocate, is lying critically ill in an Adelaide hospital. He was found naked and unconscious last Friday in a hotel room by the client he was in Adelaide to represent.. Following a police investigation of Hayes' collapse, a young woman, reportedly a prostitute, is to be charged with having administered him a drug of dependence.

As Hayes' family hold vigil by his bedside, the Melbourne bar in the state of Victoria is hotly debating whether there is a serious cocaine problem in its ranks. There are also questions about how the bar should handle any such problems.

Two years ago it was another lawyer who had written to the Victorian Bar demanding Hayes be tested for drug use and assessed psychiatrically, but the complaint was thrown out as motivated.

At the time the solicitor wrote another letter in which he said that if such a complaint had been made about a policeman, the policeman would have been drug tested. He claimed "(The bar) is more intent on protecting the 'reputation' of the bar than protecting the public".

A senior counsel claimed earlier this week that cocaine use was "rife" at the bar and had almost replaced alcohol as the recreational drug of choice in some circles. He acknowledged that he had never seen examples of it himself but said he had heard reports of "more than one" lawyer using cocaine.

Another said. "I do know that senior lawyers use drugs. We go to restaurants in Melbourne or Sydney, (capital of New South Wales) in Sydney it is much more prevalent with the top law firms and you sit there at the table and you use your credit card to cut the cocaine into nice little lines."

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