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;  HCA 8. Now, in Legal Services Commissioner v Madden (No 2)  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  Ch 250 at 268 Buckley LJ said: Continue reading “Commissioner’s obligation to charge dishonesty if he intends to allege it”