Stephen Warne on professional negligence, regulation and discipline around the world

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Uniform Legal Services Council appointed

October 17th, 2014 · No Comments

Following the appointment a little while ago of the inaugural Commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation, Dale Boucher, The Victorian and NSW Attorneys General have announced the appointment of the Uniform Legal Services Council, the blokes who are to be responsible for the conduct rules which will shortly govern all Victorian and NSW lawyers.  Their bios follow.

I am currently drafting a costs agreement to comply with the new Act and rules.  Some of the law relating to costs as between solicitor and client has not yet been made, because the new Act provides for it to be made by the new rules.  Some time ago the Legal Services Board circulated to the Victorian profession for comment a draft of the rules which I had assumed would come into force more or less as circulated.  They were developed by the Law Council of Australia and were branded as the ‘Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules’.  When it became apparent that this new Council was to be established, however, the Victorian Legal Services Board decided not to adopt them so that the Council could do its work afresh or at least unaffected by the recent adoption by one of the two participants in the ‘national scheme of a new set of rules.  So there will be another round of consultation, and the detail of the new law may not be finalised until some time rather shortly prior to its commencement which was slated, last I heard, for early next year. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Legal Profession Uniform Law · National Profession Uniform Law · Professional regulation · Uniform Legal Services Council and Commissioner

Executrixes’ denial of deceased’s alcoholism without any proper factual foundation results in indemnity costs order

October 15th, 2014 · No Comments

Hartnett v Taylor [2014] VSC 501 was a Part IV claim for testators’ family maintenance.  The defendant executrixes said that the plaintiffs’ conduct led to estrangement from the deceased and to the deceased’s alcoholism.  The plaintiffs said that the deceased’s alcoholism led to their estrangement, and that is what Sifris J found.  The defendant executrixes’ contention was one which was contradicted by their own witness, the deceased’s doctor, who said that the deceased was an alcoholic before the estrangement with the plaintiffs.  Sifris J said:

’12 It is in my view clear that the defendants’ evidence and contentions in relation to the deceased’s alcohol consumption and the estrangement from the plaintiffs were made in wilful disregard of known facts and were allegations which ought never have been made. This provides a sufficient basis for an order for indemnity costs notwithstanding that the defendants are not personally liable for such costs.’

Regrettably, the plaintiffs do not appear to have argued the case under s. 18(d) of the Civil Procedure Act 2010.  I say ‘regrettably’ because it is desirable that a coherent and easily accessible body of law about the costs consequences of the making of allegations without a proper factual foundation grow up around the new statutory provision.

Then Sifris J denied the second defendant her costs of being separately represented, since there was no need for the two executrixes to have separate representation.

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Alleging fraud & misconduct · Civil Procedure Acts · Ethics · litigation ethics · Party party costs

Client obtains Anton Piller order over solicitor’s hard disk in fees dispute

October 15th, 2014 · No Comments

In Ho v Fordyce [2014] NSWSC 1404, there is a dispute between solicitor and client in relation to fees.  The client contended that costs agreements relied on by the solicitor were what Rein J described as ‘a recent invention’.  Given that the client asserts that there was no costs agreement, presumably the allegation is that someone forged the documents relied on by the solicitor.  There is apparently some evidence already before the Court of dodginess.  The client applied ex parte for an Anton Piller-like order allowing IT people to march into the solicitor’s office and copy certain contents of the solicitor’s hard disk in order to preserve evidence which may assist in proving the implied fraud.  In a rather brief judgment given ex tempore, Rein J granted the application, relying on a decision of the Victorian Supreme Court’s Justice McMillan. The question of the likelihood of privileged material being present on the firm’s computers is not something discussed in the reasons.  It may well be dealt with in the order, which is not reproduced in the reasons. I have never heard of any such application having been made or granted before.

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Alleging fraud & misconduct · Costs agreements · duty to court · litigation ethics · Professional fees and disbursements · The suit for fees

What does an indemnity costs order actually get you?

October 7th, 2014 · No Comments

On 3 October 2014, Besanko J decided in Bob Jane Corporation Pty Ltd v ACN 149 801 141 Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 1066 that an order of a fellow judge that one party pay the other’s costs on an indemnity basis, which did not specify that the costs were to be assessed by reference to the successful party’s costs agreement with its solicitors, entitled it to costs assessed on that basis.

The Federal Court is therefore a better place to get an indemnity costs order than the Supreme Court because the law in the Supreme Court, as determined by the Costs Judge,  is that the beneficiary of an indemnity costs order gets costs assessed according to the same scale as ordinary costs are assessed by reference to, but with an easier road to showing that the costs incurred ought to be paid by the other party at all: ACN 074 971 109 as trustee for the Argo Unit Trust v National Mutual Life Association of Australia Limited [2013] VSC 137.

In the Supreme Court, of course, a special costs order allowing costs to be taxed by reference to the costs agreement may still be sought, and obtained, e.g. Sunland Waterfront (BVI) Ltd v Prudentia Investments Pty Ltd (No 3) [2012] VSC 399.  But that is the exception rather than the default, and one which many trial counsel may not be aware of.

So badly do many trial counsel deal with the question of costs that it really would not be a bad idea if litigants got advice more often than they do from costs lawyers before costs fell to be argued in any case in which there are substantial costs and fault in the costs sense on both sides, or a number of interlocutory costs issues remaining for determination.

Mind you, according to Besanko J, it has long been thus.  His Honour pointed to Beach Petroleum NL v Johnson (1995) 57 FCR 119 at 121 (per Von Doussa J) and older cases from other jurisdictions.

This case demonstrates that ultimately what determines questions of costs is always the statutory instrument which provides for them.  Increasingly, one jurisdiction’s jurisprudence will not prove persuasive in relation to different statutory regimes.

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Costs agreements · Party party costs · Professional fees and disbursements

What orders ought follow the setting aside of a costs agreement?

October 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

BGM v Australian Lawyers Group Pty Ltd [2014] WASC 290 (S) is a decision confined to questions about what ought to follow from a Court coming to a view that a costs agreement ought to be set aside.  Three matters are of interest:

1.  The Court took the view that it followed as a matter of statutory construction that upon a costs agreement being set aside, bills rendered pursuant to it were of no force and effect, and declined to make a declaration to that effect because it was unnecessary.

2. Though the Court assumed that some form of restitutionary relief would entitle the applicant to repayment of monies paid under such bills, the Court declined to make any such order because no such relief had been pleaded in the originating process.

3.  The Court declined an application for costs by the successful applicant for the setting aside of the costs agreement.  It did so on the basis that there was a Calderbank offer to accept a sum of money in satisfaction of the lawyers’ claim to fees.  The applicant argued that it had succeeded in the application to set aside the costs agreement and that the Calderbank offer should be brought to bear in the subsequent phase of ascertaining the fees against a scale which applied in default of the costs agreement having application.  But the Court reserved the question of the costs of the application to set aside the costs agreement pending the finalisation of that second phase.

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Costs agreements · Professional fees and disbursements · setting aside costs agreements

Law firm sued for recommending wife hacks husband

October 2nd, 2014 · No Comments

London firm Mischon de Reya — cool name don’t you think? — puts out a newsletter about fraud. Here is a bite from the latest one:

‘Lawyers for a woman divorcing her husband recommended computer experts who could hack into her husband’s computer and iPhone. The husband’s lawyers have been given the go ahead to appeal the divorce ruling in what could be a landmark case concerning the use of information obtained legally [sic. but should be 'illegally']. The Singapore High Court said that the law firm could be guilty of perjury, breach of professional ethics, and other crimes under the Computer Misuse Act.’
The Straits Times, 17 September 2014

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Ethics · litigation ethics

The Lawchestra’s second ever concert

September 18th, 2014 · No Comments

The Lawchestra, about which I have troubled you before, is playing again this Sunday after we totally nailed the last concert (photos from the brilliant young photographer and law student Sean R. Ali here). It was thanks to the good work of Robert Dora, the conductor.  Man does he have a hard job.  Orchestras like the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra run themselves and the conductors just add an air of distinguished flamboyance.  But conducting a community orchestra, the conductor really has to work hard to cue people, explain to them without speaking or stopping wagging the baton that they came in a bar early, as well as drag some dynamic contrast out of players more worried about playing the right notes than where to diminuendo.  It’s a high-risk, high-stress job, and Dora the Conductor is great.  So is the gorgeous soloist, Natasha Lin.  You should definitely come: book here.  Even The Age says so. [Read more →]

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September 15th, 2014 · No Comments

Just when everyone finally stopped calling the Legal Profession Act 2004 the ‘new Act’, we’re set to have another one from early next year.  This is supposed to simplify things, just like the new Act was intended to simplify things. Sigh.  You can read about it here (and if you do, you will learn the surprising fact that the obligation on lawyers to charge no more than fair and reasonable costs is a ‘change’ in the law.)

And there are other developments which are more obviously changes too.  The functions traditionally carried out by the Law Institute, first as the regulator, and then as a delegate of the independent regulators created by statute — the issuing of practising certificates and the investigation of disciplinary complaints — are no longer being carried on by it.  Old names from this part of the Institute are gone — Joe Barravecchio, Jim Leach, Helen Hartsias.

Of course Steve Mark retired recently, and the hunt continues for a new Commissioner for NSW, and Robert Brittan replaced John Briton in Queensland.

One thing that’s not changing is Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, who has just been reappointed for a further 5 year term in which he will preside over an expanded local regulatory empire with exciting new powers while liaising to an unprecedented extent with his NSW — and perhaps soon other states’ — Commissioners.

But there have recently been two key new appointments worthy of reportage: [Read more →]

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Legal Profession Uniform Law · Professional regulation

Jury verdict overturned by VSCA because of insinuation in cross-examination without adequate factual foundation

September 10th, 2014 · No Comments

In Green v Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority [2014] VSCA 207, the Victorian Court of Appeal today overturned a jury’s verdict following a nine-day trial. There had been a miscarriage of justice occasioned by the manner in which the plaintiff was cross-examined by the defendant’s trial counsel.  He had made an allegation of recent invention involving a conspiracy between her and her solicitors to concoct a story. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsMore articles on: Alleging fraud & misconduct · duties regarding witnesses · duty to court · Ethics · Evidence · litigation ethics

NZCA stomps on attempt to limit costs against disciplinary bodies

September 8th, 2014 · No Comments

In Roberts v A Professional Committee of the Nursing Council of New Zealand [2014] NZCA 141 a nurse had pleaded guilty to having sex with a vulnerable patient.  He had been suspended from nursing for three years.  The High Court upheld his appeal and reduced his period of suspension to 18 months, precisely as he had requested.  It dismissed the cross-appeal, which contended that he should have been deregistered.  He sought costs.  He got costs of the cross-appeal, fixed at 25% of the costs of the appeal because it had been doomed to fail and should never have been brought.  But he failed in his claim for costs of his own appeal though he had obtained in it precisely what he had sought.

Why? Because there were no ‘compelling reasons’ justifying such an order.  The High Court noted that unlike disciplinary cases against lawyers, where first instance decision makers were empowered to make orders for and against the legal regulator, costs orders could be made only in favour of the nurses’ disciplinarian.  The first-instance immunity to costs of nurses, and the important public function of the maintenance of standards in the provision of healthcare caused the High Court to carve out of quite a prescriptive costs regime in the High Court rules, one of the policies of which is apparently to make costs decisions predictable, a ‘compelling reasons’ threshold.  So he did not get costs of his own appeal.  He appealed again, on costs. The Court of Appeal allowed his appeal, and found there was no ‘compelling reasons’ threshold to be overcome before costs could be awarded against disciplinary regulators.  The judges unanimously said: [Read more →]

→ No CommentsMore articles on: costs · Discipline · procedure