Appeals from VCAT on the basis of inadequate reasons

A failure to give reasons is an error of law.[1] Seriously inadequate reasons are corrosive of public confidence in the administration of justice and ought not to be tolerated by an appeal court, since justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. This is the first public policy informing the requirement for reasons by courts and court-like tribunals. As the Supreme Court has observed:

‘To have a strong body of evidence put aside without explanation is likely to give rise to a feeling of injustice in the mind of the most reasonable litigant.’[2]

That is especially so in relation to factual determinations where a right of appeal lies only on a question of law. Even more especially so in a quasi-criminal[3] prosecution with serious consequences for the practitioner in which a disciplinary prosecutor carries the burden of proof as described in Briginshaw v Briginshaw. Continue reading “Appeals from VCAT on the basis of inadequate reasons”

NSWCA surveys fines in NSW lawyers’ discipline decisions over a decade

Russo v Legal Services Commissioner [2016] NSWCA 306 was the subject of my previous post. The Court engaged in a comparatively sophisticated review of disciplinary outcomes in like cases.  The purposes of this post is to reproduce that review and comment on the variables which ought to be taken into account in any proper survey of past outcomes.

To survey penalties in like cases has always been an important part of sentencing and should be an important part in imposing disciplinary sanctions.  Barbaro  (2014) 253 CLR 58; [2014] HCA 2 and Cth v Director, Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate [2015] HCA 46; (2015) 326 ALR 476 do not suggest to the contrary.  They say that the purpose of a survey of like sanctions is to promote consistency in penalties but not the establishment of a range of available sanctions deviation from which is appellable.  Buchanan JA observed in R v Macneil-Brown [2008] VSCA 190, (2008) 20 VR 677 at [130]:

‘counsel can best assist a sentencing judge, not by advancing what they consider to be sentences at the lower or upper limits of a sound sentencing discretion, but by making submissions as to the existence and nature of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and providing some guide to the manner in which other judges have approached like cases by supplying sentencing statistics and citing passages from decided cases which bear upon aspects of the instant case.’

I would submit that any survey of fines as a disciplinary sanction must take into account, as an important aspect of the analysis, the financial situation of the person or persons liable to pay it.  The specific deterrence of a fine will vary greatly from one practitioner to another.  Practitioners who struggle, for personal reasons, are more likely to get themselves into trouble in the first place, and to exacerbate it by less than perfect intercourse with the Legal Services Commissioner.  Their financial situations often deteriorate too.  Specific deterrence may be achieved by imposition of a fine much smaller than would be imposed on a flourishing practitioner raking it in.  General deterrence will also be achieved if the Tribunal is transparent in taking account of financial circumstance.  In such a case, the Tribunal might indicate the kind of fine which might have been imposed had the practitioner enjoyed an average post-tax income.

Furthermore, the costs burden borne by the practitioner ought also to be taken into consideration.  Costs and fine are inter-related in this way: Environment Protection Authority v Barnes [2006] NSWCCA 246 at [88] (Kirby J speaking for the Court) applied by analogy in LSC v Bechara [2009] NSWADT 313. The extraordinary costs practitioners are liable to in Victoria following disciplinary prosecutions would very often be more than adequate to achieve specific and general deterrence.  If you are prosecuted and reprimanded, made the subject of an editorial on the front page of the Commissioner’s website, and have to cough up $40,000 in unrecoverable solicitor-client costs reasonably incurred and costs liability to the Legal Services Commissioner, that is going to make you think just as hard about doing it again as any comparatively trivial fine you might cop.

Finally, one must be astute to inflation.  In my experience, people tend to exaggerate the effect of inflation when considering older fines.  Here is a calculator which assists in measuring in today’s dollars a fine imposed some years ago.

For some reason, notwithstanding that NSW is now a part of the legal profession uniform law, the other participant in which is Victoria, no Victorian fines were part of the survey.  That strikes me as unusual, since there is a whole statutory office the purpose of which is to promote interstate uniformity in the application of the Uniform Law: the Commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation.  Russo’s Case was decided under the old legislation which the LPUL replaced, and which legislation in fact governed the prosecution was one of the issues on appeal.  Interestingly, apparently because it was thought that there were no relevant differences between the two regimes, that question was not decided.

This is what the NSWCA said about its survey of fines, and about the appropriate fine in this case: Continue reading “NSWCA surveys fines in NSW lawyers’ discipline decisions over a decade”

NSW solicitor who didn’t pay counsel’s fees struck back on

Salvatore Russo, a solicitor of 29 years’ standing, was struck off NSW’s roll of solicitors on 16 April 2016 by NCAT.  He had received payment from his client for counsel’s fees but not paid counsel for years. Then he was high-handed in response to the client’s entreaties when counsel sued the client directly.  The Court of Appeal found a denial of procedural fairness by NCAT.  The Tribunal had telescoped the questions of liability and penalty into one hearing.  It had failed to give Mr Russo sufficient notice of the fact it was considering striking him off despite the fact by the end of the trial, the Commissioner was not seeking such an outcome any more. Now he’s been struck back on by the NSW Court of Appeal, a fine of $20,000 substituted for his misconduct: Russo v Legal Services Commissioner [2016] NSWCA 306.  (In fact, the striking off never came into operation, because he got a stay along the way.) Continue reading “NSW solicitor who didn’t pay counsel’s fees struck back on”

Applications to stay disciplinary decisions pending appeal

I had to convince the Legal Services Commissioner to consent to a stay of orders suspending my client pending an appeal he has brought from VCAT the other day.  Happily the Commissioner consented.  For next time, I squirrel away this re-statement by the New South Wales Court of Appeal of the application to this class of case of the law governing applications for stays in civil proceedings pending appeal in Griffin v Council of the Law Society of New South Wales [2016] NSWCA 275.  (I reported on the first instance decision here, and this latest decision reveals that the solicitor has applied for the removal of his appeal to the High Court so it can rule authoritatively on the application of the freedom of political speech to criticism of the third arm of government, the judiciary.) Continue reading “Applications to stay disciplinary decisions pending appeal”

Judicial review of decisions to dismiss disciplinary complaints

A man was acquitted of criminal charges.  The prosecution’s appeal failed.  He complained about the police’s lawyers’ conduct to South Australia’s Bureau de Spank, the Legal Practitioner Conduct Commissioner.  The Commissioner dismissed the complaint.  There was a statutory right of appeal in respect of some but not all categories of decisions at the conclusion of a disciplinary investigation.  Dismissals of complaints were not decisions which attracted a right of appeal.  Furthermore, the Commissioner argued, the man had a right  essentially to prosecute the lawyers privately for misconduct as an ‘aggrieved person’ under s. 82(2)(d), Legal Practitioners Act 1981 (SA).

The Commissioner applied unsuccessfully for the summary dismissal of the judicial review application.  The Court found that even though in any ordinary prosecution which would have followed a disciplinary complaint, the parties would be the Commissioner rather than the complainant on the one hand and the lawyer on the other, the complainant’s connection as the object of the alleged misconduct to the subject matter of the complaint was sufficient to give him standing (or, more precisely, to avoid summary termination of his proceedings on the basis of lack of standing).  And that was so notwithstanding the statutory scheme for appeals which conspicuously excluded him from its tenderness and notwithstanding any right he may have privately to prosecute the lawyers.  The decision is reported as McLeod v Legal Profession Conduct Commissioner [2016] SASC 151.

The situation in Victoria is impacted, in respect of complaints to the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner to which the Legal Profession Uniform Law apply  by part 5.6 of chapter 5 (ss. 312 – 314).  Decisions of the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner under chapter 5 are ‘final, except as provided by this Part’.  The Commissioner is empowered to review his own decision but only at his absolute discretion.  And lawyers have a right to appeal to a person who is presumably intended to be VCAT from a disciplinary sanction imposed administratively by the Commissioner or a compensation order imposed by him for $10,000 or more.

As to the law in relation to the same question in Queensland, see Murphy v Legal Services Commission [2016] QSC 174.

The Bureau de Spank’s obligation not to publish about disciplinary orders until lawyers’ appeal rights are spent

Parliament is considering a bill to re-instate the disciplinary register, and to prohibit the Bureau de Spank from trumpeting its successes before the respondent practitioners’ appeal rights are exhausted: Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Amendment Bill 2016 (Vic.).  Cl. 150E of the Bill proposes to prohibit the Legal Services Board from providing to the public information about disciplinary orders made by the VCAT’s Legal Practice List while appeals or appeal rights are live.  The prohibition extends beyond publication on the proposed disciplinary register to disclosure of information to the public more generally.

There is a problem with the Bill though: it focuses its protection of the profession on prohibitions of publications by the Legal Services Board about final orders.  The Board shares a website and premises with the office of the Legal Services Commissioner.  The CEO of the Board is in fact the Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, who is also the applicant in all disciplinary prosecutions of lawyers in Victoria.  Yet the CEO, qua Commissioner, is content for his staff to write about cases he is prosecuting, before any orders have been made and while the tribunal is considering what orders to make.  On the homepage of the Board + Commissioner’s website, no less.

If parliament is concerned to ensure that the reputation of practitioners is not to be ruined by accounts of current proceedings by one of the parties to them where the aspect of things might change dramatically upon appeal, or even by bad decisions in such proceedings which are to be appealed, it ought to consider adding the Commissioner to the class of person covered by the prohibition, and to make clear that neither the Board nor the Commissioner ought publish details of disciplinary prosecutions while they are before the disciplinary tribunal.

It is not uncommon for appellate courts — the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal — to reverse decisions unfavourable to lawyers in disciplinary prosecutions of lawyers in VCAT’s Legal Practice List, or to substitute decisions more favourable to lawyers than those of VCAT or the legal regulators.  So the no publicity pending appeal proposition actually has some important work to do in the real world.  Consider, to name a few, Legal Services Commissioner v McDonald [2015] VSC 237PLP v McGarvie [2014] VSCA 253Stirling v Legal Services Commissioner  [2013] VSCA 374Burgess v Legal Services Commissioner [2013] VSCA 142Brereton v Legal Services Commissioner [2010] VSC 378Byrne v Marles [2008] VSCA 78, Quinn v Law Institute of Victoria [2007] VSCA 122Byrne v Law Institute of Victoria [2005] VSC 509. Consider also non-lawyers: Omant v Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia [2014] VSC 512, and Towie v Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria [2008] VSCA 157 where the Court found that VCAT’s standard orders in disciplinary hearings were contrary to the privilege against penalties.  It will be observed that some of those decisions were made by very experienced members of VCAT’s Legal Practice List, and several by its Vice-President, a judge.

Continue reading “The Bureau de Spank’s obligation not to publish about disciplinary orders until lawyers’ appeal rights are spent”

The permissible forensic uses of historical mental illness in professional discipline trials

Professor Dal Pont’s excellent text Lawyers’ Professional Responsibility (5th ed., 2013) suggests at [23.145] that mental illness will rarely provide a defence to a disciplinary prosecution, the purpose of which is protective rather than punitive.  He argues, in part, that the public needs protection just as much from the mentally ill who do bad things as from the mentally flourishing who do wrong.  But that reasoning does not have any application where there is not a temporal proximity between the moment of determining liability and the moment at which the putative wrongdoing occurred. In my experience the glacial pace of disciplinary investigations usually mean that the time for setting sanctions is years after the conduct in question.  Very often, I find myself acting for practitioners whose minds are flourishing much more than at the time of their wrongdoing.

I always thought (or perhaps more accurately, hoped) that Dal Pont was a little pessimistic about the possibility of mental impairment being relevant to the determination of the question of whether unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct is.  True, there are some decisions broad statements in which support that position, but the authorities are a bit all over the place, and there are so many different kinds of conduct warranting discipline and so many fact scenarios that it seemed to me that the law must be more nuanced than some of those broad statements suggested.

Last year, VCAT’s Legal Practice List last year ruled, contrary to the position advanced by Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner, that evidence of mental impairment was relevant to the question of whether conduct was professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct, and heard evidence from a psychologist during the liability phase of the hearing.  The two species of conduct warranting discipline arising from a breach of the rules have traditionally been delineated by enquiring whether the breach was innocent or whether it was deliberate or reckless, so that it clearly incorporates a subjective enquiry. VCAT’s decision to hear the psychological evidence on the question of liability was, as I have learnt in the course of penning this post, consistent with that in New South Wales Bar Association v Butland [2008] NSWADT 120.

Now the Supreme Court of NSW has reviewed the authorities and published a useful decision in the matter of BRJ v Council of the New South Wales Bar Association [2016] NSWSC 146 (Adamson J), making clear that mental illness may be relevant to the question of liability, as well as to the question of penalty where it is of course of critical relevance, citing Robinson v The Law Society of New South Wales (Supreme Court of New South Wales, Court of Appeal, unreported, 17 June 1977), a decision I have not come across before. Essentially, Justice Adamson said, it all depends on whether there was a mental element to the kind of conduct warranting discipline which is charged.  Conduct described as a failure to maintain standards of competence and diligence is not something to which the practitioner’s mental impairment is relevant.  In charges which rely on the practitioner having a particular state of mind do require analysis of the degree to which the practitioner’s state of mind was flourishing.  Professional misconduct at common law is determined by what competent and reputable peers would think of the conduct.  What they would think is affected by the degree to which the practitioner’s mind was flourishing at the relevant time.

Unfortunately for the barrister who was the subject of the disciplinary hearing under appeal in this case, all this meant that though the Tribunal and the Court accepted that her conduct was caused by her psychiatric illness, she was nevertheless properly found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct constituted by failing to maintain standards of competence and diligence and acting in the face of a conflict between self-interest and duty to her client.  The test for such unsatisfactory professional conduct does not enquire into the mind of the practitioner, the Court found.  Accordingly, the psychiatric causation was legally irrelevant.

See also this sister post, about the disciplinary Tribunal’s and the Supreme Court’s willingness to allow the practitioner to change her plea, once after the liability hearing but before the delivery of reasons and once on the eve of the hearing of the appeal.

Continue reading “The permissible forensic uses of historical mental illness in professional discipline trials”

Lawyers withdrawing ‘guilty pleas’ in disciplinary prosecutions at first instance and on appeal

BRJ v Council of the New South Wales Bar Association [2016] NSWSC 146 is the subject of this sister post about the permissible use of evidence of mental impairment.  Two aspects of it deserve their own separate post.  The respondent barrister changed her plea twice, once after the liability phase of the hearing but before the decision as to liability was given and once the night before the hearing of her appeal in the Supreme Court of NSW.  Each time, she was allowed to do so. Continue reading “Lawyers withdrawing ‘guilty pleas’ in disciplinary prosecutions at first instance and on appeal”

WASCA on the kind of recklessness in making statements which amounts to conduct warranting discipline

Traditionally, the law of professional discipline has differed from the law of negligence in three profound ways.  First, its aim is the protection of the public (though the policy in favour of protecting the reputation of the profession grossly infects the purity of this proposition in most analyses).  Secondly, it is about personal wrongdoing.  Statute aside, there is no law of attributed liability in contrast to doctrines such as vicarious liability in the law of negligence.  And thirdly, simple as opposed to gross negligence was never considered to warrant discipline.  Things got messed up by the introduction into disciplinary statutes of a concept of unsatisfactory professional conduct defined in terms identical to the test for simple professional negligence.

Disciplinary tribunals (and, in my experience, disciplinary investigators and prosecutors) seem to lapse from time to time into the language of ‘should have known’ even outside the prosecution of that species of unsatisfactory professional conduct which is defined by reference to the test of simple professional negligence.  Two practitioners had to go to two Courts of Appeal to reverse decisions on dishonesty charges which were horribly infected by objective reasoning:  Legal Services Commissioner v Brereton [2011] VSCA 241 and Giudice v Legal Practitioners Complaints Committee [2014] WASCA 115.  Surprisingly, the former decision did not get a guernsey in the latter.  The law of recklessness is authoritatively restated in the three separate judgments in Giudice and I have set the whole lot out below along with some observations about Brereton’s Case. Continue reading “WASCA on the kind of recklessness in making statements which amounts to conduct warranting discipline”

VCAT rolled for finding solicitor guilty of a charge not levelled against him

Justice Karin Emerton seems to be emerging as one of the Supreme Court’s specialists in what I call the law about lawyers, much of which is found in the Legal Profession Act 2004.  Early on in her judicial career, her Honour was assigned to the hearing of the extraordinary suite of matters between the Legal Services Board and David Forster.  Her Honour’s latest characteristically clear and concise judgment in this area of the law (PS v Legal Services Commissioner [2014] VSC 185) was delivered yesterday, in which she allowed an appeal from a disciplinary decision of VCAT’s Legal Practice List. The Victorian solicitor who was the appellant was represented by another  specialist in the law relating to lawyers, Martin Randall, whom I expect was a leading expert in the area before I was born, and a gentleman to boot.  Her Honour set aside VCAT’s decision because it found the solicitor guilty of conduct he was not charged with.  The Commissioner urged her Honour instead to substitute a more appropriate decision, namely that the solicitor was guilty of the charge as drawn, but her Honour said: Wrong way! Go back. Continue reading “VCAT rolled for finding solicitor guilty of a charge not levelled against him”

Supreme Court overturns 2008’s biggest discipline decision

Update, 31 January 2012:  See now Council of the NSW Law Society v Simpson [2011] NSWADT 242 re the meaning of ‘misappropriation’.  It was on this point that Justice Bell in Brereton overturned VCAT’s decision: they had not recorded making a finding of dishonest intention.

Original post: Justice Bell yesterday allowed an appeal by Michael Brereton from the decision I wrote about here: see Brereton v Legal Services Commissioner [2010] VSC 378.  The matter is to be re-heard by the same tribunal.  Mr Brereton is making quite a comeback: see this article in The Australian.  Some entertainment for readers of this blog should follow if he makes good his stated intention to sue the Legal Services Commissioner and the Law Institute.

NSW Court of Appeal on difference between ‘professional misconduct’ and ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct’

The distinction between ‘professional misconduct’ and ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct’ is usually elusive.  Guidance from an appellate court in relation to cognate legislation is therefore valuable.  It seems that one instance of ‘incredibly sloppy’ work involving innocent false representations being made to the other side, if it is comprised of a series of closely related bits of conduct in relation to the one matter, is not what is contemplated by the words ‘substantial or consistent failure to reach or maintain a reasonable standard of competence and diligence’.  CYX v Council of the Law Society of NSW [2009] NSWCA 430 (previously blogged here) is a decision I regard as indicating an appropriately restrictive approach to identifying ‘professional misconduct’, a finding which should carry with it the opprobrium associated with the worst professional wrongs.  The NSW Court of Appeal overturned a finding by New South Wales’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s of professional misconduct. Continue reading “NSW Court of Appeal on difference between ‘professional misconduct’ and ‘unsatisfactory professional conduct’”

Supreme Courts’ inherent jurisdiction to discipline lawyers to be invoked sparingly

Update, 5 March 2012: See also, to similar effect, Bott v Carter [2009] NSWSC 236 at [28] – [34].

Original post:  In AM v Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal [2010] NTSC 02, a Full Court of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory heard an appeal by way of rehearing into a decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal (see my earlier post on the case).  One of the grounds of appeal was that the Tribunal had not had jurisdiction. The Law Society of the Northern Territory argued that whether or not the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal had had jurisdiction, the matter was now before the Court on a rehearing and it could exercise its inherent jurisdiction, rendering the fascinating jurisdictional questions irrelevant.  ‘I don’t think so!’, said the Chief Justice, with whom Justice Riley agreed.  ‘Wrong way, go back!’ they said with emphasis, noting that the Northern Territory was not the wild West:

‘[159] The Law Society submitted that if this Court was of the view that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction, as the evidence and the matter of the practitioner’s conduct is now before the Court, it should exercise its inherent jurisdiction over the profession by dealing with the practitioner in respect of her conduct. This approach would require this Court to rely on evidence placed before the Tribunal in the course of invalid proceedings. Counsel for the practitioner submitted that as the Law Society chose the Tribunal route, it would be inappropriate for this Court to exercise other than the appellate jurisdiction. As counsel put it it is “counter-intuitive” to make use of material put before the Tribunal and, if the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction, justice demands a fresh proceeding. To exercise the inherent jurisdiction de novo would involve formulating a charge and carrying the baggage of the old proceedings. Overall, suggested counsel, exercising the inherent jurisdiction would carry with it a flavour of the “wild west”.

[160] In my view, there is considerable force in the submissions of counsel for the practitioner. If I am wrong in my view that the Tribunal possessed jurisdiction, in my opinion this Court should not endeavour to exercise its inherent jurisdiction.’

$19,500 fine for making complaint against lawyer without adequate evidentiary foundation

A Full Court of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory delivered judgment in AM v Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Authority [2010] NTSC 02 a week ago. The Darwin lawyer, AM, lodged a complaint with the NT Law Society alleging that a competitor firm, Cridlands, which used to act for her client, had acted in the face of a conflict of duties.  That complaint was dismissed.  The Law Society then turned the lens on the author of the complaint and investigated her for making allegations of serious impropriety without a proper evidentiary foundation.  She was successfully prosecuted and her appeal failed. The Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (here and, in relation to penalty, here), finding the lawyer guilty of professional misconduct.  According to the NT News, the lawyer was ordered publicly to apologise to the lawyers about whom the complaint was made, complete professional conduct and ethics courses, and ordered to pay a fine of $19,500.  The costs bill is presumably very high.

The duty which was breached was formulated at [141] as follows:

‘the obligation carried by a legal practitioner is to take care when making serious allegations of impropriety against another on behalf of a client. The obligation arises not only when making allegations or preparing pleadings in a court proceeding but in other situations where the practitioner is protected by privilege and, indeed, in all circumstances, to maintain standards of decency and fairness. The appropriate standard of care is exercised by ensuring that there is evidence upon which allegations might be made and in the light of that evidence by seeking specific instructions in relation to the allegations.’

Continue reading “$19,500 fine for making complaint against lawyer without adequate evidentiary foundation”

Commissioner’s obligation to charge dishonesty if he intends to allege it

Relatively recently, I posted on the question of whether a Bureau de Spank desiring to rely on a practitioner’s dishonesty or other form of conscious wrongdoing must expressly allege it in the charge, and discussed Walter v Council of Queensland Law Society Incorporated (1988) 77 ALR 228 at 234; [1988] HCA 8.  Now, in Legal Services Commissioner v Madden (No 2) [2008] QCA 301 the Queensland Court of Appeal has had a go, and reversed a decision of the Court’s Chief Justice sitting on the Legal Practice Tribunal.  The solicitor had previously been disciplined in relation to his trust account.  He was charged with gross delay in litigation which resulted in applications by the other side to compel the achievement of various interlocutory steps.  He dealt with those applications without advising his client, agreed on his client’s behalf to pay costs, withdrew money to pay those costs from monies held in trust on account of fees and disbursements, and then charged the client fees for his work in fixing up his own mistake.  He also acted for both husband and wife in the preparation of a pre-nup, apparently stuffing it up, and then later acted in a matrimonial dispute for the husband alone, described as a particularly obvious conflict of duties.

The Chief Justice made findings of dishonesty in the absence of any allegation of dishonesty in the charge.  One might say, in fact, that he went out of his way to do so.  First he sought comment in relation to whether on the agreed facts, the Tribunal was free to draw inferences that dishonesty actuated the solicitor’s conduct, and invited the Commissioner to amend the charge so as to allow exploration of that issue.  His Honour adjourned the hearing to give the Commissioner time to think about that. On the return of the hearing, the Commissioner declined the invitation to amend.  So the Tribunal put out a document specifying, as a matter of procedural fairness, the inferences it was considering drawing, and invited argument.  The solicitor swore an affidavit responding to the Tribunal’s document.  The Commissioner’s counsel cross-examined the solicitor, but did not put it to him that he had acted dishonestly. The Tribunal then concluded that the solicitor had acted dishonestly, and decided to strike him off rather than go with the fine and reprimand recommended by the Commissioner.  Ooffa!

‘Wrong way. Go back!’ said the Court of Appeal.  It started with a general proposition:

’54 It is … a well recognised rule of practice in civil proceedings that, although the word “dishonesty” is not necessarily required, any charge of dishonesty must be made in clear terms.  In a well known passage in Belmont Finance Corporation Ltd v Williams Furniture Ltd & Ors [1979] Ch 250 at 268  Buckley LJ said: Continue reading “Commissioner’s obligation to charge dishonesty if he intends to allege it”

Criminal prosecutions (-not) by disciplinary authorities

Updates, 13 June and 24 October 2012: See now Hagipantelis v Legal Services Commissioner of New South Wales [2010] NSWCA 79 from [23] and Legal Profession Complaints Committee v Masten [2010] WASAT 47.

Original post: The Building Practitioners Board is the Bureau de Spank for builders. It initiated an inquiry into whether a builder had breached a provision of the Building Act, 1993 (Vic.).  The provision prohibited builders from building without a permit.  Breach is a crime, but the Board is not entitled to prosecute offences under the Act, for which there is a limitation period of 3 years from the end of the building.  The Builder applied for judicial review of the decision to hold the inquiry, and the outcome is reported as Rodwell v Building Practitioners Board [2009] VCS 146.  He said that a disciplinary hearing into whether he had committed a crime was ‘a proceeding for an offence’.  If he was right, then the limitation period, which was attached to that concept, had already run, and the Board did not have the power to hold the inquiry.  Justice Hollingworth held against the builder. Continue reading “Criminal prosecutions (-not) by disciplinary authorities”

Review of decisions to exclude lawyers from ASIC and NCA examinations

This is a note about a decision by a judge who is only a year older than me, Justice Nye Perram, a novel and somewhat unsettling circumstance: Collard v Australian Securities & Investments Commission (No. 3) [2008] FCA 1681. I looked him up because the judgment is so beautifully written, and found a welcome in Bar News (go to p. 97). The case is about lawyers’ rights to appear for clients to be examined by ASIC (and also, incidentally, by the National Crime Authority). It is also of interest to me because of its discussion of who bears the burden of proof when seeking review in administrative law of a bureaucratic act which statute stipulates may only be taken if it is reasonable (or necessary) to do so. Who bears the burden of establishing reason or unreasonableness? Continue reading “Review of decisions to exclude lawyers from ASIC and NCA examinations”

Dentist does worse on appeal to VCAT than before the Dental Practice Board

In Von S v Dental Practice Board [2008] VCAT 2302, a dentist sought merits review in VCAT of a decision of the Dental Practice Board to suspend his registration for 3 months.  He had practised for two and a half months without being registered (a crime punishable by a maximum fine of $11,000), practised without insurance for 20 months, and been uncooperative when the Board sought to investigate him by failing to respond to letters, and then breaking a promise to see a psychologist and provide a report. Continue reading “Dentist does worse on appeal to VCAT than before the Dental Practice Board”

Kylie’s one-time lawyer before VCAT’s Legal Practice List

Update, 18 July 2008: Make that a $200,000, not $20,000, loan from rock impressario Michael Gudinski. I like the way he gave evidence to VCAT’s Legal Practice List by mobile phone from a US Billy Joel concert. Leonie Wood’s report for The Age is here.

Update, 15 July 2008: Apparently the Law Institute’s trust account inspector Ron Hall thumped the table while under cross-examination by the lawyer’s counsel. What drama! The Age‘s report is here. Mr Hall’s evidence provides a fascinating insight into the way trust account inspectors employed by the Law Institute think. Mr Hall said at one stage, he thought ‘right, I have enough here to put a practitioner up for alleged misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct’. Inspectors hold statutory office as individuals, and their job is to investigate compliance with the trust account regime, and to report their results to the Legal Services Board. The Legal Services Commissioner is charged with bringing prosecutions for misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct. Many trust account inspectors are employees of the Law Institute, and the Board delegates its functions in relation to trust accounts to the Institute. The Commissioner outsources the investigation of allegations of unsatisfactory conduct and misconduct to the Institute too. This is under the new simpler, more transparent, new and improved no-self-regulation-here! regime set up at such expense of paper and ink by the Legal Profession Act, 2004. According to The Age:

‘Mr Hall was asked if, during his investigation, he acted “at the express behest of the Australian Crime Commission”. He first said “yes”, adding he had been subpoenaed by the ACC. Asked again by VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer, Mr Hall said the LIV investigation was his own work. But then he revealed that ACC officers gave him one of their documents.’

Update, 12 July 2008: The lawyer failed in his bid to have the Supreme Court prevent the Legal Profession Tribunal continuing to hear the disciplinary charges against him. And The Age reports on one of the transactions under scrutiny, a loan by Michael Gudinski to his then lawyer, of $20,000, said by the Legal Services Commissioner to be inadequately documented, and a breach of professional standards.Original post: The lawyer towards the centre of the regulators’ tax probe Project Wickenby, once Kylie Minogue’s and other celebrities’ lawyer, is again in the news as his VCAT Legal Practice List prosecution continues in his absence overseas. He has appealed Deputy President Dwyer’s refusal to adjourn the disciplinary hearing on the basis it would prejudice the hearing of what the solicitor claims are imminent criminal charges and the appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court on Friday morning. His barrister says he has no instructions in relation to the disciplinary matters. The Commissioner alleges the solicitor provided no cooperation with the investigation. I am not aware of Deputy President Dwyer sitting in the Legal Practice List before. He was the head of Freehills’s Environment and Planning Group and was appointed DP on 1 April 2007.

As far as I can see from Austlii, all of his decisions written reasons for which have been published on Austlii have involved local councils and I infer that they have all been planning matters. There is one exception: a real property list matter. A web profile of Mr Dwyer before his appointment says: Continue reading “Kylie’s one-time lawyer before VCAT’s Legal Practice List”

Court of Appeal wreaks havoc with most current Legal Services Commissioner investigations

Update, 2 September 2010: Just noticed this and thought to store it away here as potentially interesting: http://jade.barnet.com.au/Jade.html#article=229752.

Update, 7 August 2010: The saga continues.  See this post.

Update, 17 June 2008: The Age has caught up with this story. It’s a funny old article. Weirdest is this comment ‘A prominent senior counsel said the system was unfair, and any complaint should be forwarded immediately to the subject of the complaint.’ In my experience, the Commissioner does almost invariably send the complaint immediately to the solicitor, and that’s not what the case was about anyway.

Original post: In Byrne v Marles [2008] VSCA 78, the Court of Appeal has thrown a very lean cat amongst some very fat pigeons in a decision which may invalidate all current investigations of the Legal Services Commissioner unless it is overturned on appeal or remedial legislation is passed with retrospective effect (which was the response after the great delegation debacle). The Court found that the Commissioner’s referral to the Law Institute for investigation of what she characterised as a disciplinary complaint was ‘invalid’. In following her absolutely standard practice, the Court said the Commissioner had failed to give natural justice to the solicitor by deciding to characterise the complaint as a disciplinary rather than civil complaint and by deciding not to dismiss it summarily without investigation, without allowing the solicitor to be heard in relation to those preliminary decisions. Anyone — complainant or lawyer — who has a current complaint which is not heading in the desired direction should seek advice from a lawyer with expertise in relation to the professional discipline of lawyers. It is conceivable that the decision may provide options for those against whom professional discipline prosecutions have succeeded under the Legal Profession Act, 2004. Given that the Commissioner never, in my experience, invites discussion about the preliminary questions of whether to dismiss the complaint before commencing an investigation, or on the proper characterisation of the complaint, it seems likely that most of the Commissioner’s decisions to investigate complaints will be ‘invalid’. Continue reading “Court of Appeal wreaks havoc with most current Legal Services Commissioner investigations”