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

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. Continue reading “Jury verdict overturned by VSCA because of insinuation in cross-examination without adequate factual foundation”

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”

White Industries v Flower & Hart: unfounded allegations of fraud

This post is a case note of Justice Goldberg’s famous decision in White Industries (Qld) Pty Ltd v Flower & Hart (1998) 156 ALR 169; [1998] FCA 806 as well as of associated decisions and surrounding controversy.  Because it is what I am working on at the moment, it concentrates on that part of the case which relates to the unjustified pleading settled by Ian Callinan QC and signed by his instructor Michael Meadows, alleging that the builder lied to the developer in relation to the cost of building a shopping centre just north of Brisbane.  It’s a big post, to kick off the year.

Facts (not all drawn from the judgments)

George Herscu died just before Christmas, aged 85. He was the alter ego of a property development group headed up by the Hersfield Development Corporation. According to 4 Corners, he was the biggest property developer in the country. According to The Australian, he lived in a Toorak mansion, owned a Melbourne Cup winner, and was once the third richest man in Australia after Robert Holmes a Court and Kerry Packer, one place ahead of Alan Bond.  He was a millionnaire by 30, and made and lost a fortune of $500 million.  He left Australia for California in 1997 and rebuilt substantial wealth.  Towards the end of his life, he was engaged in bitter litigation with his son, who described him as ready to spend whatever is needed to “crush anyone that stands in his way”.  Ironically, given what follows, Mr Herscu’s lawyers accused the son of mis-using the deposition process.  According to The Australian, they said:

‘Your clients’ continued insistence on trying to push an 80-year-old man with hypertension, a heart condition, failing hearing and many other health problems into a deposition room – having already deposed him for 27 hours – is shocking and wrong.  The only conclusion one can reasonably draw from your clients’ posture is that their litigation strategy involves attempting to subject George Herscu to so much stress and pressure he simply dies. To use the tools of discovery for this purpose is reprehensible, and indeed revolting.’

Very alarmingly, he was asked in those depositions about allegations that he had watered down the beer in a pub. Continue reading “White Industries v Flower & Hart: unfounded allegations of fraud”

The civil and disciplinary consequences of making an allegation of serious wrongdoing without a proper foundation

Friends, I need your help, again.  Certain promises I made to write about and present on the civil and disciplinary consequences of making allegations of serious wrongdoing (e.g. fraud) without a proper foundation are coming home to roost.  I’m looking at:

  • disciplinary sanction of lawyers via Legal Services Commissioner, etc. prosecution;
  • personal costs orders against lawyers;
  • costs consequences for parties (common law in relation to exercise of the unfettered discretion re solicitor-client rather than party-party costs and displacing the presumption that costs follow the event where allegations of fraud are not made out, and Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic.)); and
  • what is a ‘proper foundation’?

My miserable situation in this season of sun, frivolity and child-minding is a need to work out what these consequences are so that I can provide learned disquisition.  In the process I have learnt something about Dr Peter Clyne, the protagonist of Clyne v NSW Bar Association (1960) 104 CLR 186; [1960] HCA 40.  What a wonderful addition to my knowledge of the rogues’ gallery of which I consider myself a connoisseur; I even bought his autobiography on eBay today but his ‘How Not to Pay Your Debts’ is still available.  The Hikers described his conduct during the course of an ‘orgy of litigation’ between his client, the husband, and the wife as ‘irresponsible’, ‘mischievous’, ‘objectionable’, indefensible, ‘inexcusable’, and, rather wonderfully I think, ‘monstrous’.  A unanimous Dixon Court confirmed the good doctor’s striking off.  You can read about his life afterwards, including as a Magistrate in Zambia, here, and possibly less reliably, here.

So here is a general call-out for good authorities on these questions, especially decisions which really assist in understanding what a ‘proper factual foundation’ is, since many authorities relate to allegations which are so obviously unsustainable that they do not really illuminate where the line lies between the merely poor and the truly discreditable argument (Clyne), or proceed on the basis of admissions (AM v Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Authority [2010] NTSC 02), or are fantastically complicated (the case just referred to and Victorian Bar Inc v CEM QC [2006] VCAT 1417).  I would also be very grateful for any detailed commentaries on this aspect of the conduct rules for solicitors and barristers alike, and Australian decisions in relation to costs (since many of those cited by Dal Pont are Canadian or English).

Legal Services Commissioner’s obligations of fairness

I have previously reported Justice Finkelstein’s views about the obligations of those who prosecute proceedings for a penalty (‘‘I would hold that a regulatory body that brings a civil proceeding to recover a penalty is under an obligation similar to that owed by a prosecutor to an accused.’). Barristers who are briefed by the Legal Services Commissioner in disciplinary proceedings have the same obligations as barristers briefed to prosecute criminal proceedings.  But until tonight I was unaware that VCAT’s predecessor, the Legal Profession Tribunal, had actually indicated that the regulator himself (as opposed to his lawyers) owe obligations.  In Victorian Lawyers RPA Ltd v Kaine [2001] VLPT 16, Senior Member Howell,  Victoria’s most experienced decision maker in legal disciplinary matters, said of the Law Institute (which was for a while formally named ‘Victorian Lawyers RPA Ltd’) that it owed:

‘the obligations normally owed by a prosecutor, such as the obligation to bring to the attention of the Tribunal or to the attention of the practitioner any evidence that might be favourable to the practitioner’.

Continue reading “Legal Services Commissioner’s obligations of fairness”

Prosecutors’ duties in professional discipline cases

There is an interesting article by Ian Wheatley at (2008) 16 Journal of Law and Medicine 193.  Titled ‘The Criminalisation of Professional Misconduct Under the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 (Vic): How is a Fine of $50,000 Not Punitive?’. It compares the rights of alleged criminals and the maximum sentences in criminal law, with the rights of doctors alleged in disciplinary proceedings to have committed disciplinary wrongs of a similar degree of seriousness, and pours some much-needed acid on the hymn sung by so many Bureaux de Spank that the proceedings are ‘purely protective of the public’ and involve no element of punishment.  But what protections actually exist for respondents in professional disciplinary proceedings?  It is the purpose of this post to examine three of them.

First, I have posted before about the application of the privilege against penalties to disciplinary proceedings, and about what Justice Finkelstein said in Australian Securities and Investments Commission v Mining Projects Group Limited [2007] FCA 1620:

‘I would hold that a regulatory body that brings a civil proceeding to recover a penalty is under an obligation similar to that owed by a prosecutor to an accused.’

Secondly, in addition to this principle, many bodies and statutory officers charged with prosecuting professionals are governed by the governments’ model litigant rules.  Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner is a model litigant, and so is governed by these guidelines (which include an obligation to avoid litigation where possible, to keep the costs of litigation as low as possible, and not to take advantage of respondents to disciplinary charges who lack the resources to litigate the disciplinary claim).

But where a barrister is involved in the prosecution, it is, at least in Victoria, surely the application of the conduct rules in criminal proceedings which comes closest to requiring the kind of conduct which Justice Finkelstein considers to be appropriate.  And this is the third thing.  The Victorian Bar’s practice rules define ‘criminal proceedings’ as follows:

‘includes disciplinary proceedings, in which context other expressions appropriate to criminal proceedings include corresponding meanings appropriate to disciplinary proceedings and in particular “a serious criminal offence” includes a disciplinary shortcoming which, if proved, involves the serious possibility of suspension or deregistration (or the equivalent).’ Continue reading “Prosecutors’ duties in professional discipline cases”

A new Australian legal ethics blog

A warm welcome to the blogosphere for the Queensland Law Society’s Ethics Blog, which is in its first posts, but attracts an impressive callibre of comments.  The blog has a post about a recent, rare, decision about those rules about what to do in litigation if you discover your client is lying, or you find that you have inadvertently misled the court: Perpetual Trustee v Cowley [2010] QSC 65.  The solicitor got it wrong, and copped a personal costs order.

Civil Procedure Bill

The civil procedure landscape is changing fast.  A new Evidence Act.  The establishment of the Costs Court.  The Federal Court’s rocket docket.  The Supreme Court’s Commercial Court.  The abolition of the County Court’s Practice Court in favour of a managed list approach.  Early neutral evaluation.  The increasing use of Associate Justices and Judicial Registrars. The New Courts Act project, which will produce one Act regulating the Supreme, County and Magistrates’ Courts.  Now, here comes a big one: the Civil Procedure Bill, 2010.  There are similar moves afoot at the federal level: the Civil Procedure Bill, 2010 (Cth).

Here is Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s commentary on the Victorian bill. And here is Allens’s.  Lots of room here for a reinvigoration of the law of lawyers’ obligations to the Court. Justice Ipp’s ‘Lawyers’ Duties to the Court’ (1998) 114 Law Quarterly Review 63 ought to form the backbone of commentary to the Act, and ought to be compulsory reading for all those who join litigation departments.  This speech of the Federal Court’s Justice Barker in 2009 is also worth a look.

Lawyer referred for appearance of complicity in husband client’s fraud on wife

In Lambert & Jackson [2010] FamCA 357, a Family Court judge sitting in Sydney made the following orders:

‘1. There be a further listing before me on 24 May 2010… for the purposes of giving Ms Y an opportunity to make submissions as to why I should not send my prima facie findings to the Legal Services Commission (Queensland) for the purpose of him considering whether to initiate and prosecute disciplinary proceedings against Ms Y.

2. Any affidavit evidence upon which Ms Y wishes to rely for the purposes of her submissions … is to be filed … [by] 21 May 2010.’ Continue reading “Lawyer referred for appearance of complicity in husband client’s fraud on wife”

Honest and reasonable mistake as a defence to disciplinary charges

Senior Member Howell decided last year in Legal Services Commissioner v RMB [2010] VCAT 51 that there is a mens rea element to professional discipline offences under the Legal Profession Act, 2004, in that there is a defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’.  That fascinates me, since under the previous Act, misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct was often delineated by the presence or absence of knowledge that the conduct engaged in breached a norm of conduct. Conduct in ignorance of its wrongfulness was punishable as unsatisfactory conduct.  Now, though, there is no knowledge element built into the definitions of the 2004 Act, and there seems to be no particular reason why the concept of honest and reasonable mistake which has been imported from the criminal law, might not apply equally to cases of professional misconduct and unsatisfactory professional conduct. Continue reading “Honest and reasonable mistake as a defence to disciplinary charges”

Solicitor prosecuted for breach of rule in Browne v Dunne

Bizarre man.  A Queensland solicitor has been found guilty of professional misconduct for not obeying the rule in Browne v Dunne (well, amongst other things): Legal Services Commissioner v MPD [2009] LPT 08. Here are the reasons:

‘[18] in July 2004, [Mr Dryland] retained the respondent to resist an application for an apprehended violence order.  [19] Mr Dryland’s case involved a denial of the incident of violence alleged against him.  [20] During the hearing, the respondent, who acted as advocate, failed to put his client’s case when cross-examining.  [21] The Court made an apprehended violence order against Mr Dryland.  [22] It is not alleged that there was a connection between a failure to comply with the rule of practice in Browne v Dunn (1893) 6 R 67 and the outcome of the hearing. Rather, the undisputed case is merely that there was a failure to cross-examine appropriately.’

Is the draft witness statement held by the witness privileged?

Justice Finkelstein’s decision in Australian Securities and Investments Commission v Mining Projects Group Limited [2007] FCA 1620 has provided material for the last 2 posts.  Now, a third.  His Honour had to consider a question I have never been too sure about.  Say there is a case on foot, but it’s long before trial.  A solicitor for one of the parties interviews a witness.  The witness says his thing.  The solicitor turns it into a witness statement.  The solicitor sends the witness a copy.  There is no doubt that the original witness statement drafted by and retained by the solicitor is privileged under the litigation limb of legal professional privilege.  But what about the copy held by the witness?

Well, though it’s clearly privileged under the uniform evidence legislation, there’s conflicting authority in relation to the position at common law. The two most recent appellate authorities say the witness statement and the copy witness statement are both privileged. On the other hand, Chief Justice French plumped for the opposite conclusion while on the Federal Court. Even if it is privileged, that cannot mean that the witness cannot say the whole thing over again to anyone else who may care to enquire, because there is ‘no property in a witness’.  And I do not suppose the witness would have any positive obligation to assert the solicitor’s client’s privilege (anyone disagree?).  But depending on the cirucmstances, the witness may owe an obligation of confidentiality to the solicitor’s client which would give rise to equitable rights in the solicitor’s client if the witness gave up the witness statement.  Of course compulsion, such as an obligation of discovery under rules of court, properly administered interrogatories, a regulator exercising a statutory power, and a subpoena trump mere confidentiality.  It may be that in the face of compulsion, only if the solicitor’s client stepped in and asserted his or her privilege over the documents would the compulsion not result in delivery up of the witness statement.  Justice Finkelstein’s learned analysis went like this: Continue reading “Is the draft witness statement held by the witness privileged?”

The implied undertaking yields to compulsion; relevance to a second proceeding a powerful ‘special circumstance’

Justice Pagone’s decision in Griffiths & Beerens Pty Ltd v Duggan [2008] VSC 230 came along just at the very moment I needed to find out the answer to a question I have always been unsure about. Say you have documents from one proceeding obtained from the other side on discovery. They are relevant to a related subsequent proceeding. Do you have to discover them? If so, do you have to give inspection of them? If not, would it be a contempt of Court to discover them? Justice Pagone says you should discover away and give inspection subject to anything the second Court might do in the interests of justice, because the implied undertaking yields both to statutory compulsion (e.g. an ATO examination) and also to ‘curial process’ such as discovery and subpoenas. He also said something which, it appears to me, comes close to an assertion that the implied undertaking prima facie does not preclude use of a document obtained in one proceeding in another proceeding, and that what the undertaking is really about is the use of documents obtained in litigation for purposes other than litigation (e.g. publication to the media). Continue reading “The implied undertaking yields to compulsion; relevance to a second proceeding a powerful ‘special circumstance’”

Robyn Tampoe, Schapelle Corby’s solicitor

Update, 10 June 2009: Mr Tampoe has been struck off the roll of solicitors.

Update, 7 July 2008: Watch the video of Tampoe slagging off his client here.

Original post: Lawyers and their regulators should care about the Corby case, because at the relevant time, a lot of people loved Schapelle and Schapelle does not now much like her lawyers. One of them has hit back, calling the Corbys “the biggest pile of trash I have ever come across in my life”. People will think this is normal, or at least the tip of the iceberg. And much confusion seems to be going around about Mr Tampoe’s fabrication of a defence for Corby. For giving this interview, and saying this, I condemn Mr Tampoe, who is no longer a solicitor, with all my fibre. What I question below is whether the media have got their reportage of his claim to have completely fabricated the defence right — if he means what I imagine he means, I say — so what? Whether or not the media have got it right, I reckon his comments might well harm his former client. They could have been personally deeply hurtful, they could affect her treatment in jail, they could affect any claim for clemency she might in the future make, and they could affect the result of the prisoner exchange treaty negotiations underway between the Australian and Indonesian governments, or the speed with which they progress. Continue reading “Robyn Tampoe, Schapelle Corby’s solicitor”

Danger lurks in settling a disciplinary complaint against a lawyer

A man hired a firm. Then he hired a new solicitor. He had not paid the fees of counsel retained by the first firm, for which the first firm was responsible for paying to the barrister. The first firm handed over its files to the new solicitor upon receiving an undertaking from the second solicitor that he would pay the counsel’s fees. The new solicitor failed to do so. So the first firm (i) sued him in a court for what amounted to specific performance of the undertaking, and (ii) complained about the failure to meet the undertaking to the NSW Law Society (this was back in 2001). Nine months later, the Society charged the new solicitor with professional misconduct.

The hearing of the court case was listed for 17 January 2002. The new solicitor who was the respondent to the disciplinary charge hired a barrister to represent him at the trial of the civil court case. Through that barrister, the new solicitor negotiated a settlement with the first firm a day or two before the trial. The terms of that settlement got the barrister who negotiated it into trouble: in Council of the New South Wales Bar Association v DKLR [2007] NSWADT 201, NSW’s equivalent of VCAT’s Legal Practice List held the barrister guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The settlement purported to settle not only the civil action, but also to dispose at the same time of the complaint. Continue reading “Danger lurks in settling a disciplinary complaint against a lawyer”

25 handy hints on affidavits in Victoria

I presented a seminar with Glenn McGowan SC on affidavits and written evidence recently. I wrote a long paper, mainly about the state courts, but incorporating some aspects of Federal Court procedure, which I will send to anyone who asks for a copy, and which will probably end up on the blog replete with useful hyperlinks one day. Meanwhile, here are some handy hints on affidavits which are not always properly understood:

  • a deponent who makes an affidavit in a work capacity can state their business address instead of their residential address, but the condition of doing so is that they state the name of their firm or employer, if any, and the position they hold: Supreme Court Rule 43.01(3);
  • in the Supreme Court, you can call for an electronic copy of an affidavit to be emailed to you if served with a hard copy, by invoking Practice Note No. 1 of 2002, (2002) VR 107;
  • you can call for any document referred to in an affidavit by a notice to produce under Supreme Court Rule 29.10(2), and the rule is interpreted to mean that you can call for production of any document referred to in an exhibit to an affidavit: Williams [I 29.01.345] citing Re Hinchcliffe [1895] 1 Ch 117; Continue reading “25 handy hints on affidavits in Victoria”

Criminal defence lawyer to be vicariously responsible for investigator’s deception?

Legal Blog Watch draws our attention to a CNN report of a Wisconsin lawyer who is said to have gone too far in defending a middle-aged man against allegations of sexual assault and child pornography involving  a boy. Neither article states the facts adequately, so see this article too. It was alleged that the accused showed the 13 year old pornography on the accused’s computer. The lawyer wanted the boy’s computer, suspecting it would contain useful undiscovered material demonstrating that what was on the accused’s computer was nothing new to the boy. So he sent a private investigator over to the boy’s house with a story that his household had been selected for a free laptop in exchange for his old computer. There was a cover story about a company researching school students’ computer use. It worked. The boy’s family handed over the old computer, including hundreds of pornographic images which the lawyer then sought to tender in his client’s criminal trial, and the boy got a new laptop. The Wisconsin Supreme Court wil now decide whether the lawyer’s deception through the proxy of the investigator was one step too far in the vigorous and fearless defence of his client.

The solicitor and “the other side’s witness”, part II

Part I is the extraordinary story of a leading labour lawyer in Melbourne who was found to have induced breach of contract in taking a statement from an ex-employee of the other side in a class action in which the lawyer was the plaintiffs’ solicitor. Unbeknownst to him, the ex-employee continued to be bound by a confidentiality agreement.

Part II is a simple case in which the defendant’s solicitor applied to enjoin the plaintiff’s solicitor from continuing to act, based on a conflict of duties, Grego v Great Western Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd [2006] WASC 284. It was a workers’ compensation case brought by a fisherman in relation to an injury said to have been sustained on the remote Abrolhos Islands. The defendant said the payment of wages by the company which engaged in the fishing activities (of which the plaintiff and his wife were the directors) was a retrospective fiddling of the books after the alleged accident. The plaintiff interviewed the defendant’s accountant in relation to discovered documents, having alleged a fraudulent conspiracy to claim loss of wages. The accountant willingly cooperated in the preparation of an affidavit. Its contents were not damaging to the plaintiff [20]. This was said to amount to an “obvious breach of the duty of confidence” owed by the accountant to the plaintiff as his client.

There is no criticism of the defendant’s solicitor in the judgment because there is no property in a witness. The accountant must have woken up to the inappropriateness of what he was doing, though, because he sent the draft affidavit to the plaintiff’s lawyer for comment before signing.

When told of this, the defendant’s lawyer objected, saying that the accountant had disclosed a privileged document to the plaintiff’s lawyer. He said a draft witness statement is privileged under the litigation limb of legal professional privilege (a normally uncontroversial proposition) and the accountant had interfered with the defendant’s privilege by providing it to the plaintiff’s solicitor. The accountant did go on to swear an affidavit in the terms of the draft, having taken counsel’s advice and having been advised by the plaintiff’s solicitor that it was entirely a question for the accountant whether he signed the affidavit or not (the judge found at [39] that this constituted the implicit conveying of the plaintiff’s consent to the swearing of the affidavit). So by the time of the injunction application, that had already occurred, and could not be restrained. There was no attempt to restrain the use of the affidavit in the litigation. The defendant applied for the plaintiff’s solicitor to be restrained on the basis that the solicitor had:

“2.1 wilfully infringed against the legal professional privilege of the [defendant] in a draft affidavit;

2.2 have placed [himself] in a position where [his] duties to the plaintiff and [his] duties to a material witness necessarily conflict;

2.3 by [his] actions have created a perception that [he] interfered with a witness in the giving of evidence.”

His counsel’s argument met with about as little success as is possible. Justice Peter Blaxell said: Continue reading “The solicitor and “the other side’s witness”, part II”

Roisin Annesley’s Victorian Barristers’ practice guide

The Bar has produced a practice guide. It is a great achievement and stands as a beacon for the Law Institute’s future efforts at promulgating knowledge of the practice rules. The Bar actually has something called the Professional Standards Education Committee. Written by Roisin Annesley, it was launched by Victoria Marles, the Legal Services Commissioner on 18 October 2006, and distributed free to every member of the Bar. Annesley has done a lot of work as Counsel Assisting the Legal Profession Tribunal (and continues to do occasional work assisting the Legal Practice List at VCAT). A doyen of professional discipline, Paul Lacava SC, and a judge who has excoriated Professional Standards, Justice Gillard, are credited with substantial involvement. It has chapters on: Continue reading “Roisin Annesley’s Victorian Barristers’ practice guide”