Update, 4 December 2009: see now Legal Services Commissioner v Madden (No 2)  QCA 301. What the Queensland Court of Appeal said there about Walter’s Case, the subject of this post, is reproduced at the end of the post.
Original post: Does a lawyer’s Bureau de Spank have to say in a charge in a disciplinary prosecution that the norm allegedly transgressed was transgressed deliberately or recklessly, if that’s what they desire to prove? In the old days, deliberate or reckless transgression was what distinguished professional misconduct from unsatisfactory conduct, the lesser form of disciplinary offence. Nowadays, it is only a ‘useful guide’ in distinguishing the two. So a finding of misconduct might, theoretically, be made in respect of conduct by a person ignorant of the norm transgressed, or who simply made a mistake about a relevant fact. And so there is a particular reason now why it is desirable to know whether dishonesty is alleged, making it more important than ever to be informed by the charge if the Bureau is going to contend at the hearing that the solicitor intentionally did wrong, or was dishonest.
Back to 1988 and a unanimous High Court decision of the Mason Court which did not make it to the CLRs and which I read for the first time only recently: Walter v Queensland Law Society  HCA 8; (1988) 77 ALR 228; 62 ALJR 153. J R S Forbes’s Justice in Tribunals (2nd ed., 2006) suggests at p. 132 that it stands for the proposition that if a professional regulator wants to establish dishonesty or wilful wrongdoing it should say so, also citing Melling v O’Reilly, Appeal 6/91 Misconduct Tribunal, Criminal Justice Commission (Qld), 9 December 1991. Continue reading “Disciplinary charges and intentional wrongdoing”
In Re a Psychologist  TASSC 70, the Supreme Court of Tasmania quashed a decision of the Psychologists Registration Board of Tasmania to suspend a psychologist for 6 months for entering into a sexual relationship with a former patient fewer than 2 years after the end of the therapeutic relationship. In fact he married her. A couple of newspaper articles are here and here.
The Supreme Court quashed the decision because the Board switched from considering these allegations as a breach of a code of conduct to considering them as an allegation of professional misconduct at common law without adequately bringing the switch to the unrepresented psychologist’s attention. Also because the reasons were inadequate. Justice Blow engaged in a mini-review of recent cases about health professionals and sex with former patients: Continue reading “Doctors, psychologists, sex and former patients”
Note: I drafted this post last financial year. Since then, the value of a penalty unit increased today by about 3%, to $116.82, with the result that the dollar figures referred to below will be commensurately too low. See the details at Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes.
Original post: I acted for a fellow whom the Law Institute as delegate of the Legal Services Board was purporting to investigate, and noticed for the first time what a rich repository of crimes is the Legal Profession Act, 2004. Two are punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years or more: s. 3.3.21(1) (having or causing a trust account deficiency or failing to pay trust money) and s. 5.5.15 (interfering with property to defeat a receivership of a law practice). A third, s. 2.2.2(1) (unqualified practice) is punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment respectively. Eight are punishable by fines of up to about $27,000, about 25 by fines of up to about $13,500, about 57 by fines of up to about $7,000, and another 14 by fines of between up to about $500 and about $2,500. That’s over 100 crimes. As far as I know, the only conviction is likely to have been under s. 3.3.21.
All of the offences punishable only by fines are summary offences: 600 penalty units (a fine of about $68,000) and imprisonment for up to 5 years being the level of seriousness which brings offences into the indictable category: see s. 112 read with s. 109 of the Sentencing Act, 1991. So s. 3.3.21(1) (having or causing a trust account deficiency or failing to pay trust money) and 5.5.15 (interfering with property to defeat a receivership of a law practice) appear to be the only indictable offences created by the Act. They may be prosecuted at any time, while all those punishable by fines, and unqualified practice, are summary offences which may generally be prosecuted only within 12 months after the allegedly criminal conduct occurred, by virtue of s. 26(4) of the Magistrates’ Court Act. Do not allow an investigator under the Legal Profession Act, 2004 to investigate a summary offence if the conduct allegedly occurred more than a year beforehand! (Whether the Legal Services Commissioner may entertain a disciplinary complaint more than a year after the relevant conduct is a more difficult question. See this post.)
I really wonder about the social utility of having all those crimes there. Continue reading “Offences created by the Legal Profession Act, 2004”
Speaking of the need for speed as Justice Heydon and I were on this blog yesterday, there are two other instances worthy of reporting.
First, the High Court has recently considered the need for speed in criminal proceedings, and were not nearly as excited about it as in commercial litigation. This time, they rolled the court below for saying that enough delay was enough and staying a criminal prosecution that had hung around for too long, resulting in the loss of exculpatory evidence. The decision in R v Edwards  HCA 20 might have application by analogy in disciplinary cases. It is blogged about at Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes, and there is a short note in the latest Law Institute Journal.
Secondly, delay by the Legal Services Commissioner has had a consequence in a serious disciplinary prosecution. Parliament requires the Bureau de Spank to conduct their investigations ‘as expeditiously as possible’, and to give the complainant progress reports at least 6 monthly: s. 4.4.12, Legal Profession Act, 2004. If the Commissioner complies with these injunctions, the degree of expedition which is possible is not always great. In fact, sometimes the rate at which investigations progress is astonishing. So glacial can progress be that the possibility that climate change sceptics might actually have some kernel of truth buried away beneath all of their hot air (-not) begins to nag at you. There is a letter in the latest Law Institute Journal complaining about the Commissioner’s April 2009 response to a solicitor’s September 2008 letter (August 2009, p. 10).
An unexplained period of apparent inactivity of 18 months was taken into account in favour of the lawyer prosecuted for misconduct in Legal Services Commissioner v ER  VCAT 1445. This is a factor which might be brought to bear in many a plea in a disciplinary prosecution. What Judge Ross’s tribunal said on this issue is: Continue reading “Commissioner’s unexplained delay reduces penalty for serious misconduct”
Lovegrove & Lord‘s Kim Lovegrove and barrister Sav Korica have just published a little book called Disciplinary Hearings and Advocacy (Hybrid, 2009). It sells for $39.95. Lovegrove is the Chairman of the Building Practitioners Board, and presides over disciplinary hearings. I suspect that frustration with other decision makers’ decision making (‘there may exist some, particularly those who are not legally trained, who may harbour a misconception about the purpose of disciplinary porceedings in that they may be of the view that their primary mandate is to punish’) and, more particularly, with the attitude adopted by advocates appearing before him (‘Members are often bamboozled about determining whether an advocate is contesting or mitigating’) has driven him to write the book. Continue reading “A new text on professional discipline”
Even though I can remember little about them, I know that two of my favourite books are the 18 year old Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse and Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach. They are both short. A book is a good book when you can finish it in one bath. Entertaining as Justice Owen’s judgment writing style was in The Bell Group Ltd v Westpac Banking Corporation [No 9]  WASC 239, it is not a short decision. Much is probably buried away in there, unlikely to be read in this drought, for want of sufficient rainy days. So here is his Honour’s handy exposition of the rule in Jones v Dunkel, which commences at paragraph 999: Continue reading “Inferences arising from failure to call a witness for fear of what they would say”
In Australian Securities and Investments Commission v Mining Projects Group Limited  FCA 1620, Justice Ray Finkelstein, aka da Fink, sowed a seed for future courts to take up and declare that regulatory authorities bringing civil penalty proceedings should have the same duties as criminal prosecutors. Having cited the authority to say that they do not, his Honour said:
’35 A lay person might be forgiven for thinking that in the present context the distinction between civil and criminal proceedings is somewhat artificial and that in both kinds of proceedings the regulatory authority or prosecutor (as the case may be) is under a duty to ensure that the decider of facts (judge or jury) is best placed to arrive at the proper and just result.’
Then, with the judicial equivalent of biting sarcasm:
‘Perhaps the reason courts have rejected this approach is that in a criminal proceeding a conviction may result in imprisonment whereas in a civil penalty proceeding the worst that can happen is that the defendant’s career is ruined or his life is wrecked.’
Continue reading “Da Fink reckons the Bureau should act with the fairness of Crown prosecutors”
Update, 8 November 2008: When I wrote this post, the Court of Appeal had authoritatively answered another of the questions posed below, about the penalty privileges, but I had not yet read the case, CT v Medical Practitioners Board  VSCA 157. Now I have, and I have posted here about it.
Original post: WPE v Law Institute of Victoria  VCAT 1277 shows that you’ve got to be careful when challenging a decision to cancel or suspend your practising certificate because if the Law Institute wants to sic you, they can seek to establish misconduct against you in the merits review proceedings, and if they get up, VCAT has the same suite of powers as it would following a disciplinary prosecution: s. 2.4.37(3) Legal Profession Act, 2004.
Sometimes, rather than engage in litigation, it is better to play the game, take an early long service leave, help some orphans, have a moment on the road to Damascus, and send in a well thought out application for a new certificate at a well judged time in the future. Saves a lot of costs and maybe a few orphans, lets you have a holiday at the same time, and means there’s never a hearing into the conduct which gave rise to the suspension and/or cancellation. Spend half the money you would have spent on lawyers on a public relations consultant and a lobbyist and you’re doing even better. Other times it’s better to avoid merits review — the obvious remedy specifically provided for in the Legal Profession Act, 2004 — and go for judicial review proper (a course which we now know since Zarah G-W’s cases is kosher; c.f. Perkins v Victorian Bar Inc  VSC 70), especially where the decision making process leading up to the suspension or cancellation is dubious. But sometimes, if a disciplinary charge seems imminent, the question of costs referred to below might recommend getting in early with an application for review of a practising certificate decision which might prevent the laying of disciplinary proceedings proper and lead to adjudication of the issues in a more costs friendly regime. There is much to weigh up in choosing one’s approach when challenging a practising certificate decision.
How these hybrid administrative law and quasi-criminal proceedings are supposed to pan out has been a bit of a mystery to date. They are a new concept. Maybe they are unique — who knows? Anyway, there was certainly no analogue under the Legal Practice Act, 1996. Who bears the burden of proof? Who should go first? Does the privilege against penalties protect the lawyer? Is it an inquisitorial or adversarial proceeding? Should the matters the Law Institute will argue should found disciplinary findings be the subject of properly particularised charges? What about costs? Can the Law Institute apply for disciplinary findings at all, or is it a jurisdiction which must be invoked by VCAT? Judge Ross provided answers to a couple of these questions only in this case. Continue reading “The practising certificate suspension challenge that went wrong”
I have previously posted about the QC who took his computer into work at the DPP only to lose his career when the tech found child pornography on it. It was a bizarre story, and of course there was a twist which has become clear from the disciplinary decision in Council of the NSW Bar Association v PJPP  NSWCA 135: the QC thought he had the porn sequestered on a removable hard drive (the F drive), which he removed before taking it into work, but some had crept out into the rest of the computer. This post looks at the discussion of what inferences, if any, it was proper to draw from the QC’s exercise of the right to silence at the investigation stage, and from his failure to give evidence at his disciplinary hearing. Continue reading “The right to silence in disciplinary and striking off hearings”
I only just caught up with the fact that the Court of Appeal has overturned Justice Gillard’s decision in Kabourakis v Medical Board of Victoria  VSC 493, the subject of an earlier post. See  VSC 301.
VCAT’s Vice President Harbison, sitting in the Legal Practice List for the first time I am aware of, has contributed what appears to be a most interesting addition to the authorities about whether solicitors engage in trade and commerce for the purposes of the Fair Trading Act, 1999 (and, by analogy, of the Trade Practices Act, 1974), and whether solicitors may ever be sued under the Fair Trading Act, 1999. As to which, see this earlier post. The decision is Walsh v PJCC&A Pty  VCAT 962 which I will certainly be posting a detailed analysis of.
Then a NSW decision has illustrated again the problem of sloppy regulators failing to consider whether what purports to be a complaint received by them is in fact a complaint as defined by the Act which regulates them (an allegation in both of the cases noted here). This time it was NSW’s Legal Services Commissioner, Steve Mark, getting bashed up by the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s Legal Services Division in Legal Services Commissioner v SG  NSWADT 48:
’64 As stated, Mr Mark determined that a complaint had been made of deliberate charging of grossly excessive amounts of costs, when no such complaint had been made.
65 Without any further evidence or effort to obtain a valid expert opinion, the LSC instituted the complaint and brought this matter before the Tribunal on the equivocal opinion expressed by Mr McIntyre. Samantha Gulliver investigated the complaint on behalf of Mr Mark, however what, if anything, resulted from such investigation was not placed before the Tribunal. Continue reading “More cases”
In Legal Services Commissioner v SAC  VCAT 576, a solicitor ignored the Bureau for over 6 months before the Bureau moved to prosecute him for non-compliance with the Commissioner’s demands. After the charge was laid but before it was heard, the solicitor provided an adequate response and apologised. Didn’t do him any good though: he still copped a finding of misconduct, and has to pay $2,400 in fines and costs. Member Butcher made this comment: Continue reading “VCAT suggests natural justice requires Bureau to wait indefinitely for practitioner’s response”
On Australia Day, I watched the 2002 film ‘Black and White’, about the Max Stuart case. I had picked up historian Ken Inglis’s book on the case at a church fete the other month, thinking it was the kind of thing a young barrister should have in his chambers, and flicked through it at the time before putting it in the waiting room for unread books. It was an excellent film, and I’ve reshuffled the book towards the front of the waiting room. Max Stuart is an aborigine who worked at a travelling fun fair. He was convicted of murder in 1959 on the flimsiest circumstantial evidence and a confession. He had previously been convicted of indecently assaulting a girl, had been a bare knuckle boxer, and was a heavy drinker. Continue reading “Black and white”
The last post referred to part 1 of the last chapter of an intriguing saga. The second and final part of that chapter is the decision on costs: PJQ v Law Institute of Victoria (No. 2)  VSCA 132. The President of the Court of Appeal rejected the following submissions by the Institute:
- that the Institute was just a contradictor, assisting the Court by ensuring that it had two views to choose from, and was akin to an amicus curiae;
- that it would have been entirely inappropriate for a professional regulator such as the Institute to consent to the relief sought by the appeal;
- that the cases which say that ‘costs ought not to be awarded against a statutory tribunal which makes an order in excess of its powers unless it can be demonstrated that the tribunal has been guilty of serious misconduct or corruption or has acted perversely’ are relevant (‘this submission is entirely misconceived. The Institute is not a tribunal. Rather, it appears before the Tribunal as a party. Its function is that of prosecutor. No question arises here of the Tribunal’s costs, since the Tribunal did not appear.’);
- it was relevant that parliament had directed that costs of the Full Tribunal hearing were not to be awarded against the Institute save in exceptional circumstances (s. 162, Legal Practice Act, 1996; see now Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998, Sch 1 cl 46D(3));
- because it made no submissions as to penalty, the Institute did not lead the Tribunal into error. Continue reading “Costs ordered against Law Institute in unsuccessful opposition to appeal against sentence of solicitor”
The latest and possibly last chapter in the tribulations of Victoria’s most senior female silk is to be found in M v VCAT  VSC 89, a decision of Justice Mandie. The barrister was charged on 4 July 2005 with 24 charges of misconduct, and ended up after a hearing of the first half of the charges with a finding of only 4 counts of unsatisfactory conduct. All but one of the second half were abandoned, but the Bar, as prosecutor, sought to amend the last remaining charge so as to substitute an allegation of unsatisfactory conduct for the original charge of misconduct. VCAT found it had no power to grant leave to amend a charge, and the barrister convinced the Supreme Court to stay the hearing of the last charge as an abuse of process, VCAT having refused to do so. It was an abuse because the Bar wished to proceed with the misconduct charge not so as to make out an allegation of misconduct, but so as to provide a vehicle for a finding of unsatisfactory conduct under a statutory power which empowered VCAT to make a finding of unsatisfactory conduct after hearing a misconduct charge. Justice Mandie found:
‘ … It would bring the administration of justice into disrepute to permit the Bar to prosecute a charge of misconduct while at the same time saying the opposite, namely, that it was not advancing a case of misconduct or seeking a finding of misconduct. It is an entirely different position to that which might have arisen had the charge been proceeded with and, after all the evidence was in, the Bar conceded that the evidence supported only a lesser charge [i.e. unsatisfactory conduct]. The use of a misconduct charge simply to obtain a finding of a lesser charge when the case for misconduct is completely disavowed before the hearing commences is, I think, a misuse of the statutory procedure and, indeed, as the plaintiff submitted, contrary to the spirit of the Act, given the requirement that the Bar be satisfied when bringing the charge that there is a reasonable likelihood that the Tribunal would find the practitioner guilty of misconduct. If the Bar has reached the view, as it has, that a case of misconduct cannot be made out and it does not seek to do so, such a charge ought not as a matter of justice and fairness be heard.’ Continue reading “Misconduct charge no. 21 against Victorian silk stayed as abuse of process”
B (A Solicitor) v Victorian Lawyers RPA Ltd (2002) 6 VR 642 (Ormiston, Charles and Batt JJA)
The Law Institute corresponded with the solicitors in this matter between 1998 and October 2000. The CEO Ian Dunn, wrote what is known in the game as “a Murray letter” on 16 October 2000. That is a letter summarising the tentative conclusions of an investigation giving a practitioner a final opportunity to comment before a final decision to lay a charge. The two solicitors in this case were given 7 days in which to respond. One of them replied at length and indicated he did not desire an extension of time, the other did not request an extension. Later, their lawyers took the point that the charge was invalid and the Tribunal’s jurisdiction not properly invoked. The Tribunal found it had jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to entertain an appeal in relation to this aspect of the Tribunal’s decision because, it found, the finding that sufficient time had been afforded was a question of fact, and it had jurisdiction only to hear appeals on a question of law. Nevertheless, the majority ventured some dicta. Continue reading “Procedural fairness: “Murray letters” considered by Victorian Court of Appeal”
The New South Wales Law Society distinguishes itself amongst the Australian law societies with its in depth ethics resources. The Bar Association too is good in that regard in that state. Here is an excellent paper by R.R. Stitt QC and G.C. Lindsay SC entitled “Disciplinary Proceedings Affecting Barristers”. It’s a bit old now (June 1997, revised January 1999) but, really, not much changes in the world of professional discipline. I now acknowledge this paper as a source of various future posts. There is a Victorian equivalent, by Dr Ian Freckleton (available here until 1 February 2007, filed under 5 April 2006).
Update, August 2006: the end of the saga is to reported at this post.
Original post: In Victorian Bar v DAP (Nos. 1 to 4) (Bowman, Southall QC, Harper)  VCAT 294, the Bar got itself into a tangle in the prosecution of a barrister for what sounds like the relatively minor offence of taking monies on account of fees in advance without holding a trust account. The complainant refused to give evidence and VCAT refused to arrest him. But it is not only an entertaining series of decisions: Judge Bowman took a firm line in relation to prosecutorial fairness.
Continue reading “Colourful barrister runs rings around the Bar’s prosecutor, for a while anyway”
Law Institute v KTBH  VCAT 350 (Senior Member Howell)
There were separate disciplinary and negligence proceedings against the solicitor over the same facts. At the end of the disciplinary hearing, and on the basis of the prosecutrix’s submissions, Mr Howell decided to determine the negligence case and get the whole thing over and done with. He found there had been a delay by the solicitor in getting a woman compensation. Though VCAT was not empowered to order interest on the woman’s claim, he gave her Hungerfords damages, that is, damages in the nature of interest, and calculated the damages by reference to the penalty interest rate. This note is critical of that decision.
Continue reading “A very generous approach to a Hungerfords damages claim tacked onto a misconduct prosecution”