Schapelle Corby’s former lawyer struck off

Robin Tampoe, the former Gold Coast lawyer hired as one of Schapelle Corby’s lawyers by Ron Bakir, has been struck off the roll of solicitors by Queensland’s Legal Practice Tribunal. The decision is here.  Removal from the roll is the ultimate sanction in the world of professional discipline, though in circumstances where it is not apparent that Mr Tampoe intended in the future to practise law anyway, it is interesting that there does not seem to have been any push for a substantial fine.

Mr Tampoe did not contest the charge of professional misconduct comprised of disclosing on a national breakfast television show confidential information obtained during his retainer about criminal convictions of members of the Corby Family.  Nor did he contest the unsatisfactory conduct comprised of commentating on his own defence strategies and calling his client’s family the biggest pile of trash he had ever come across in his life. That conduct was characterised as ‘scandalous, offensive and/or likely to bring the profession into disrepute’.  You can still watch some of the conduct in question on Channel 9’s website.

Mr Tampoe, who has retired from practice and did not have a practising certificate at the time of the hearing did not contest the hearing or oppose the application to have him struck off. Remarkably, through his Gold Coast solicitor, Mr Tampoe professed not to have understood that he owed duties of confidentiality to Ms Corby, conceiving of Ron Bakir who ‘hired him’ as his client. He said:

‘he was under the mistaken belief that Mr Bakir was his client and  therefore there was no retainer or solicitor/client  relationship between himself and Ms Corby.’

As the Queensland Tribunal’s Western Australian counterpart explained in great detail in relation to the Western Australian silk who was disciplined for mouthing off confidences to the media, obligations of confidentiality are not dependent on a formal contract between the lawyer and the person for whose benefit he is doing the work anyway.  It doesn’t matter who’s paying; the lawyer owes the obligations to the person for whose benefit he is doing the work.  The problem with this whole affair is that the media and the public is left confused about this.  Consider this passage from an article of Tony Keim in Queensland’s Courier Mail:

‘The pair [Ms Schapelle and Ms Mercedes Corby] claimed any conversations or legal instructions given to the Gold Coast-based Tampoe were privileged and that he was professionally bound to not divulge any information to anyone, including the media.

In February, Tampoe defended the charge on the grounds he was hired by Schapelle’s so-called “white knight” and financial benefactor, Ron Bakir, and as such privilege should be afforded only to him.

Legal Services Commission barrister Ben McMillan said at the time it was accepted Bakir had hired Tampoe, but maintained privilege should have been extended to Schapelle and Mercedes.’

It reads as if competing and as yet inconclusive theories on the cause of climate change were being advanced rather than that an argument which ought to be preposterous to any thinking lawyer had been put up forward at a moment when it might be expected that the most anxious consideration had been given to the question.  Ultimately, Mr Tampoe moved away from that position, and accepted that he had no justification for what he did, but the public is going to be left very confused about lawyers as a result of this extraordinary affair.

It is my genuinely held belief that the Law Council of Australia should place a quarter page advertisement in The Australian reassuring the public that Ms Corby’s former lawyers’ behaviour is aberrant and reviled by thinking solicitors, and directing the public to an internet explanation of what solicitors’ and barristers’ duties of confidentiality actually are.  I have said before that nothing in recent times is likely to have brought the profession into disrepute more than the antics of Mr Tampoe and the Western Australian silk.  I mean, while professing publicly to be her lawyers, and while in fact being her lawyers, between them they told the national press and Channel 9 what would have been understood to mean:

  • Camp Schapelle was trying to bribe the judges and the prosecutors;
  • Camp Schapelle was full of criminals; and
  • Camp Schapelle was full of stupid, self-obsessed trash.

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2 Replies to “Schapelle Corby’s former lawyer struck off”

  1. "It is my genuinely held belief that the Law Council of Australia should place a quarter page advertisement in The Australian reassuring the public that Ms Corby’s former lawyers’ behaviour is aberrant and reviled by thinking solicitors, and directing the public to an internet explanation of what solicitors’ and barristers’ duties of confidentiality actually are."

    Couldn't agree more.

    The sad thing is that people's views on the Corby family and the Schapelle Corby issue generally, whether correctly held or not, end up dominating the discussion when in fact it is totally irrelevant to this issue.

    For Tampoe to claim that the Corbys were not entitled to privilege is an insult to the Profession and the public.

  2. The tribunal's findings focused on the harm that Mr Tampoe's comments had on the public reputation of the legal profession:

    "What is of greater concern in those comments is that he is representing in information then conveyed to the public that the role of the criminal defence is to make up a defence which it can then take away. This is clear when he says, "I gave
    you the defence, I'll take it away." This is certainly likely to bring the legal profession into disrepute with the public. In fact, a person acting as a criminal defence legal
    practitioner cannot under any circumstances invent facts or invent a defence. To say such a thing is scandalous and is likely to cause the public to lose confidence in not only the legal profession but in the criminal justice system, because
    it suggests that in response to a criminal charge what one should do is find a legal practitioner who will make up a defence for the alleged offender. Nothing could be further from the truth."

    I suspect Mr Tampoe's comments merely affirmed peoples' opinion of lawyers rather than causing them shock. How commonly are lawyers asked how they can represent someone they know to be guilty. The premise of the question is a cynicism of lawyers even if as a profession we rightly have lofty expectations of ourselves.

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