Does the Legal Services Board have the power retrospectively to excuse inadvertently practising briefly without a practising certificate?

As with most years, no doubt scores of Victorian lawyers forgot to renew their practising certificates last year.  For months, in some cases, this situation was allowed by the regulators to persist without intervention.  In Victorian Bar Inc v GSL [2006] VCAT 435 the VCAT, constituted by Judge Bowman, Peter Jopling QC, and Ms F Harrison made clear that the disciplinary Tribunal expected regulators to be proactive to prevent practitioners inadvertently practising uncertificated. Eventually, at least in some cases, the regulators seem to have raised the issue with some practitioners whose sudden apparent cessation of practice at a young age seemed unlikely.

May I respectfully suggest that you go and check, now, whether you actually have a practising certificate for the current financial year.

The question now that the regulators have apparently complied imperfectly with VCAT’s guidance is what ought to happen?  Should the practitioners who are close to blameless for practising without a certificate be given a new one with retrospective effect (some were told, for example, by their office manager that the applications had been lodged before the end of the year, and were entitled to assume that their existing practising certificate had ongoing operation pending the Board getting around to dealing with the application, by virtue of a legislative provision to that effect discussed below). Or should the full consequences of the law, including disciplinary investigation, and the refunding to clients of fees for work done while uncertificated (s. 10, LPUL), be brought to bear? The latter approach has the disadvantage of causing lawyers’ professional indemnity insurer to cancel cover during the period of non-certification and the Fidelity Fund may be unavailable to clients of the lawyers in question in relation to conduct engaged in while uncertificated.

What VCAT said was:

Continue reading “Does the Legal Services Board have the power retrospectively to excuse inadvertently practising briefly without a practising certificate?”

Continuing professional development obligations: plus ca change…

Today is the end of the CPD year, and the last day of operation of the Victorian Bar’s Continuing Professional Development Rules 2008 in Victoria.  They are hard to find now, but you can access them here.  The Legal Profession Uniform Continuing Professional Development (Barristers) Rules 2015 were made on 26 May 2015 and commenced on 1 July 2015.  You can access them here. But the relevant Committee of the Victorian Bar recently determined that compliance with the old rules would be deemed to amount to compliance with the new ones for the current CPD year.  The page on the Bar’s website with recent CPDs’ videos and other resources may be accessed (by barristers only) here. The most significant (possible) difference between the new and old rules for barristers other than new barristers seemed to be in relation to what amounts to a CPD activity. Under the new rules, a CPD activity must be: Continue reading “Continuing professional development obligations: plus ca change…”

The extended duration of the un-renewed practising certificate

Under the Legal Profession Act 2004, if a lawyer applied for renewal of their practising certificate prior to the expiry of the old one, but a decision was not made before the old one runs out, the certificate is extended until either it is renewed or a decision to refuse renewal is finally determined by the exhaustion of all rights of review of that decision.  No one has ever really known what that meant.  There is a statutory review procedure in VCAT and then there are appeals all the way to the High Court.  Are the appeals from the review ‘a right of review of the decision’?  The Supreme Court has now determined that the certificate endures (if not earlier cancelled or suspended by the stipes) until the end of the High Court appeal.

The question arose in Batrouney v Forster (No 2) [2015] VSC 541, handed down by Justice Robson yesterday (see paras [167] – [193]).  It represents a further embarrassment for the Legal Services Board appointed receivers of David Forster’s practice, Hollows Lawyers, with a savage series of costs orders against the receivers in Mr Forster’s favour.  That followed findings that the receivers’ proceedings were in part misconceived, and that they breached more than one provision of the Civil Procedure Act 2010. The question was at what point did Mr Forster cease to hold a practising certificate and so cease to be entitled to claim costs of acting for himself under the Cachia v Hanes (1994) 179 CLR 403 at 411–413 exception to the rule that self-represented litigants are not entitled to costs for work done by themselves.

The question is a matter of significance to practitioners who get themselves fairly deep into trouble.  It means that those whose practising certificates are not renewed may continue to practice and earn income to put towards the legal costs of challenging that decision, and it also means that such practitioners may brief counsel directly in circumstances where, by virtue of Bar rules about direct access, they might not otherwise be able to.  And of course, it also means that if successful in such proceedings, they will get a costs indemnity against the time spent running their litigation.

Mr Forster is a man with his back to the wall, the subject of an avalanche of litigation brought by professional regulators.  Until recently, he had been singularly unsuccessful and much chastised.  It is probably fair to say that some people in the administration of justice, including the profession, would see him as a pariah.  It ought therefore be of some comfort to those responsible for the justice system that this result has obtained.  It suggests that the cab rank principle is alive and well, that judges are capable of dealing with each case impartially on its merits and according to law without being unduly influenced by past cases, and that the State will not protect itself where the law requires that it be dealt with.

A case about a bipolar lawyer

My practice has had me thinking a lot recently about the professional discipline of the mentally ill.  The legal profession has caught up with the medical profession by coming up with good policies which make clear that where mental illness can be managed in such a way as to protect clients and others to whom lawyers owe duties, managed practice by the mentally ill should be encouraged and supported.  For example, see the Legal Services Board’s policy.  The Board’s CEO, the Legal Services Commissioner Michael McGarvie, has been talking about the policy in recent weeks, and so has a Federal Court judge been talking about his own long standing clinical depression.  This post looks at what might be a sad case of a mentally ill lawyer who defended himself, and got me thinking about how mental illness is treated when it emerges in the course of investigation of disciplinary complaints.

If mental illness is not relevant to the test for professional misconduct, as the Commissioner argues and at least one text asserts, I wonder whether the Commissioner should be given a discretion not to prosecute where he finds it reasonably likely that VCAT would make a finding of professional misconduct, but the practitioner does not presently hold a practising certificate and their conduct is at least in part explained by mental illness. Continue reading “A case about a bipolar lawyer”

Suspensions which are not suspensions and orders which are not orders

VCAT’s latest decision to come to my attention, of Member Elizabeth Wentworth, involved another solicitor who did not lodge tax returns over an extended period. He was suspended from practice for 12 months, but the suspension was suspended provided he did not breach certain conditions in the three years after the orders.  If he does, then the Commissioner may apply for the suspension of the 12 month suspension to be lifted so it comes into operation. Member Wentworth decided to leave what exactly would happen in the case of a breach to the discretion of the any future Tribunal constituted to consider it rather than providing automatically for the suspension of the suspension to be lifted.  Legal Services Commissioner v GB [2015] VCAT 254 is interesting to me for six reasons: Continue reading “Suspensions which are not suspensions and orders which are not orders”

Unqualified costs consultants

There has been another challenge to the legality of the work done by non-lawyer costs consultants.  It did not go anywhere because of deficiencies in the way the client (himself a lawyer) went about trying to prove in the Magistrates’ Court that the costs consultant in question (a struck off lawyer) had engaged in unqualified practice, and because of the limited nature of an appeal from a Magistrate. The Supreme Court’s judges also emphasised the exactness of proof necessary to establish a breach of s. 2.2.2 Legal Profession Act 2004‘s prohibition on unqualified practice, given that it sets up an indictable criminal offence punishable by up to 2 years’ jail.  Such exactness is needed even in civil proceedings which obviously do not carry criminal consequences.

But as three judges of the Supreme Court made clear, all this means is that this was not the vehicle to decide just how much non-lawyers are permitted to do in the realm of costs law, and subject to what level of supervision by a lawyer, and there is little solace for unqualified costs consultants in the judgments.

The reasons of the Court of Appeal for not granting leave to appeal the Supreme Court’s dismissal of an appeal from a Magistrate are: Defteros v JS [2014] VSCA 154.  They are interesting for three reasons:

1.  They endorse comments made by the Costs Judge in a June 2010 decision as to the need for consideration of reform of the ‘mini-industry’ of costs consultants (Kaye J did so at [2014] VSC 205 at [85] and Santamaria JA (with whom Neave JA agreed) did so at [2014] VSCA 154 at [21]);

2.  They record an interesting submission of counsel, namely that the solicitor client was relying on his own contempt of the Supreme Court by asserting as a defence to a suit for fees a statutory prohibition on the recovery of money charged for the provision of legal services in contravention of the prohibition on unqualified practice — the contempt arose, so the argument ran, because the solicitor well knew at all relevant times that the costs consultant was not a practising certificate holder, and so had permitted the costs consultant to engage in unqualified practice if it had occurred, contrary to s. 2.2.10 of the Legal Profession Act 2004; and

3.  They emphasise the modern trend of leaving to the Costs Court questions which have traditionally been dealt with by certificates of the trial judge (e.g. certification for two counsel).

It will not be too long before someone takes a grip of this issue and runs a test case carefully.  An alternative battle ground might be found if the unqualified costs lawyers seek to influence the makers of the forthcoming Uniform Rules of professional conduct so as to provide an exemption for unqualified costs lawyers from the prohibition on unqualified practice: see s. 10(3), Legal Profession Uniform Law (Vic).  That seems to me to be the most efficient means of resolving the question.  In my books, if there is to be a place for the continued operation of unqualified practitioners there may be a case for restricting the exemption from unqualified practice to existing practitioners and closely defining the permissible ambit of their activities, perhaps to party-party disputes. Continue reading “Unqualified costs consultants”

New South Wales Law Society misconceivedly suspends sole practitioner’s PC peremptorily

In Dennis v Council of the Law Society of New South Wales [2014] NSWSC 1487, the Law Society suspended a sole practitioner’s practising certificate with immediate effect and appointed a manager to his practice.  He had not responded to commands by a trust investigator to produce documents and answer questions in relation to a disciplinary complaint.  The Society said that he had failed to do so wilfully and without reasonable excuse, and this, it said, made it necessary to abolish the man’s livelihood.

Hoeben CJ at CL found that the commands were invalid in law, and there had been no failure at all to comply with them.  But even if the Society’s interpretation of the provisions of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW) in question had been correct so that there had been a failure to comply with them, his Honour said, this would still not have been an appropriate occasion on which to exercise the ’emergency powers’ which the Law Society exercised.  It simply was not ‘necessary’ for the protection of the public to shut down a sole practice like that.  Especially since, prima facie, the appropriate place for the complainant to raise the practitioner’s conduct was in the proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria which were the backdrop to the conduct complained of and which were pending at the time of the complaint.  And more especially still where the practitioner had cited the commercial sensitivity to that litigation of confidential information sought by the Law Society and had suggested that the investigation be paused pending the imminent completion of those proceedings.

Given that the complaint in which the practitioner was said wilfully to have failed to obey the stipes’ commands was the complaint of a non-client, I will be interested to learn what it is about NSW law which means that the solicitor could be obliged to deliver up privileged information even if the commander had the power to issue the commands.  The Victorian Bureau de Spank has no such powers: B v Auckland District Law Society [2003] UKPC 38, a decision of the Privy Council and Legal Services Commissioner v Shulsinger [2010] VCAT 965. Continue reading “New South Wales Law Society misconceivedly suspends sole practitioner’s PC peremptorily”

How not to correspond with the person you’re seeking a practising certificate from

A decision of the Supreme Court is another lesson in the perils of self-representation.  What started off as a failure to lodge income tax returns for a few years snowballed into a situation where the barrister’s intercourse with the judiciary and the Bar Association in relation to inquiries made by the Bar Association revealed him to be not a fit and proper person to hold a practising certificate, 42 years into his career at the Bar.  See JTB v Bar Association of Queensland [2010] QSC 306, the dismissal of an appeal from a decision not to renew the barrister’s practising certificate.

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”

More on Law Institute records and public interest immunity

I have previously posted about Justice Pagone’s rejection of the Law Institute’s blanket invocation of public interest immunity to excuse production of documents required for production under a statutory power of compulsion available to the Tax Man.  Now his Honour has decided the case based on the kind of specific arguments he considered to be necessary: Law Institute of Victoria Limited v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (No 2) [2009] VSC 179. The documents sought by the Tax Man were divided into 3 categories:

  • The first were documents about the practice history of the solicitor of interest to the Tax Man, which included copy practising certificates, records of when the solicitor held a practising certificate, and of what kind, and change of address forms.
  • Secondly, the Tax Man sought records of audits of the solicitor’s trust accounts;
  • Thirdly, he sought ‘all records in respect of the cessation of [the solicitor’s] registration as a practising lawyer, including documents stating Mr Kephala’s election not to renew his practising certificate, or notification of his ineligibility, or notification of the requirement for investigations to be conducted before it could be renewed.’

His Honour held that the first and third documents were not protected by public interest immunity, but the second was.  The reasons in relation to the audit documents are set out below.  Some of the documents produced by the Institute contained information to persons other than the solicitor in whom the Tax Man is interested.  His Honour also hinted strongly that a responsible regulator ought to advise them that information relating to them was proposed to be produced to the Tax Man, and that the Institute had not done so.  His Honour contrasted that course with that adopted in Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Coombes (No 2) (1998) 160 ALR 456. Continue reading “More on Law Institute records and public interest immunity”

Rehabilatory orders as professional discipline disposition

In Victoria last year, a deal was struck between the Law Institute and a solicitor whose practising certificate it had cancelled.  A retired solicitor was appointed as a mentor to the solicitor, who was allowed to return to practice subject to the Legal Practice Board’s supervision through the retired solicitor’s agency.  Bitter litigation was brought to an end.  There was a precedent: Legal Services Commissioner v BH [2008] VCAT 686.  And it is not unlikely that that precedent was borne out of important guidance issued by the Court of Appeal in PJQ v Law Institute of Victoria [2007] VSCA 122 per President Maxwell with whom Justices of Appeal Chernov and Nettle agreed:

’31 Critically for present purposes, however, the Tribunal’s protective function is paramount. Thus, where there is a choice of sanctions, it is to be expected that the Tribunal will choose that sanction which maximises the protection of the public.

32 In my opinion, the Tribunal was here faced with just such a choice. Counsel for [Mr Q] had offered the Tribunal an undertaking to have his bills of costs independently assessed. This undertaking was offered apparently without limit of duration. As Buchanan JA and I said when granting a stay of the suspension, the imposition of a continuing obligation of that kind would seem likely to afford considerably greater protection to the public than a period of suspension, unaccompanied by any requirement of training or further education, followed by a resumption of unsupervised practice. Put simply, compliance with the undertaking would ensure that there was no recurrence of the overcharging which occurred here.

33 As I have mentioned, the Tribunal’s otherwise careful reasons for decision make no mention of the proffered undertaking. The Tribunal said that it had considered other options short of suspension but in my view, because of the long-term protection which the undertaking offered the public, that course required separate consideration and evaluation.’

The Bureaux de Spanque Medicales are much better than their legal equivalents at fashioning these kinds of orders (but then there is a dearth of experienced doctors while there is a glut of lawyers, so necessity is the mother of invention).  Anyway, the Queenslanders are onto it.  In Legal Services Commissioner v MPD [2009] LPT 08, the Bureau de Spanque Tropicale heard charges against a solicitor for breach of the rule in Browne v Dunne, and several trust account irregularities which involved no dishonesty.  The solicitor pleaded guilty, and everyone involved thought these lovely orders to be most appropriate: Continue reading “Rehabilatory orders as professional discipline disposition”

The lien and the solicitor who finds himself practising certificateless

Update: More solicitors’ lien cases: Magnamain Investments Pty Ltd v Baker Johnson Lawyers [2008] QSC 245, and Stark v Dennett [2007] QSC 171, a case about who should be taken to have terminated the retainer and which sets out the law thoroughly.

Original post: As I have already noted in these pages, Issac B was given a holiday by VCAT, and told not to apply for a work ticket until next year.  Since then, things have got considerably worse for the iconoclast, but more about that in a little while. Cosgriff v Issac B & Co [2008] VSC 515 reveals that Issac B & Co’s practice was ‘transferred to a multi-disciplinary practice in which Malcolm Buxton is the principal legal practitioner.’  Naturally, you can’t sell your clients. If they don’t want any truck with the new owner of the business, it’s tough titties for the new guy.  So it was here: Issac’s former client went off and retained Slater & Gordon.

The question decided by Justice Byrne was whether the solicitor could maintain a lien in circumstances where his retainer had come to an end by virtue of his inability to practise. (As an aside, it is interesting that this is yet another decision of a case about a matter directly governed by the solicitors’ conduct rules, where the Court does not even mention them, as is also often the case in applications to enjoin solicitors from acting in the face of a conflict of duties.) The decision was that Issac B could not assert the lien, because he was taken to have terminated the retainer: Continue reading “The lien and the solicitor who finds himself practising certificateless”

The practising certificate suspension challenge that went wrong

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 [2008] VSCA 157.  Now I have, and I have posted here about it.

Original post: WPE v Law Institute of Victoria [2008] 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 [2007] 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”

Issac’s holiday; plea bargaining in disciplinary charges examined

Issac’s style of legal letter writing is legendary. There are some quite extensive private collections out there. I recall one letter said to have been penned by the man himself which began ‘Dear Sir, you are a petulant lunatic,’ and after some substantive words continued ‘You are a very small cog in a very big wheel and it seems that it will long stay that way.’

I have long been a fan of his extremely colourful and yet less-is-more webpage, which has said, for as long as I can remember, in yellow and red text surrounded by blue fire ‘We at Issac [B] and Co make a firm commitment to a flexible, approach to law’.  Such heterodox ebullience can only be tolerated so long in the dark suited depressed salaryman world of the Melbourne legal fraternity, and the other day, the sombre might of the law came down on the iconoclast for what the humourless powers that be characterised as too much flexibility. Continue reading “Issac’s holiday; plea bargaining in disciplinary charges examined”

The right to silence in disciplinary and striking off hearings

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 [2008] 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”

Zarah wins

Ms Garde-Wilson’s back in business. In fact she never went out of business, since following the non-renewal of her practising certificate, she held a deemed practising certificate pursuant to the Legal Profession Act, 2004, s. 2.4.5(3) pending her VCAT merits review application. The assertion that she had ceased to be a fit and proper person seems fundamentally to have been about her contempt of the Supreme Court of Victoria in refusing to answer questions on oath, and certain criminal charges which were pending against her. The criminal charges went away, and the Board obviously subsequently formed the view that the unusual circumstances of the contempt conviction were not such as to demonstrate her unfitness to engage in legal practice, and so gave her her practising certificate back. These things are determined at the date of a decision, and so the fact that the Board determined now that Ms Garde-Wilson was a fit and proper person does not necessarily suggest that its decision back then was wrong.

I suspect that Justice Bell commencing his decision in Garde-Wilson v Legal Services Board [2007] VSC 225:

‘The plaintiff, a young and intelligent solicitor, was working hard in a firm specialising in criminal law,’

must not have harmed her cause. So too Justice Harper’s reasons for not imposing any sentence on her upon finding her guilty of contempt of court, which began:

‘Zarah Garde-Wilson, you are a solicitor who, on the evidence available to me, is intelligent, hard working and determined to represent your clients to the best of your ability. These are valuable attributes in any legal practitioner. Another such attribute is that combination of learning, technical legal skills and common sense which, appropriately mixed, results in sound judgment. None of us get the combination exactly right all the time.’ (R v Garde-Wilson [2005] VSC 452)

The Age article alerted me to a Zarah decision I had missed, about the detail of which I will fill you in on soon. Here it is: Garde-Wilson v Legal Services Board [2008] VSCA 43. The Court of Appeal, led by Justice of Appeal Dodds-Streeton, overturned Justice Bell’s decision mentioned above, which had dismissed Ms Garde-Wilson’s application for judicial review of the Board’s decision to suspend her practising certificate. Justice Bell had said that Ms Garde-Wilson had a perfectly adequate alternative remedy in the merits review option in VCAT, and that is a good reason why judicial review should not be availed of. Not so, said the Court of Appeal.

Law Institute seeks 50 year ban for 62 year old solicitor

In Law Institute of Victoria v DSS [2008] VCAT 1179, the Institute sought in a misconduct prosecution an order that the solicitor not be allowed to handle trust monies for 50 years. Vice President Judge Ross described the submission as ‘somewhat excessive’.

The solicitor had stolen $75,000 from his clients and out of his trust account, lied to a trust account inspector, removed evidence so as to hinder his investigation, and involved a client in misleading the inspector by dictating a letter full of lies and having her sign it and send it to the inspector with a view to perverting the course of justice. These were ‘manifestly serious’ instances of misconduct. In a criminal prosecution, Justice Lasry had sentenced the solicitor to 18 months’ imprisonment, wholly suspended. The solicitor was suffering from a mental illness at the time when he committed the offences. A family law client had been murdered by her husband at the County Court more or less in the solicitor’s presence and he had not coped well. There was a psychiatrist’s report. The solicitor was remorseful and his remediation was well advanced. He had paid back all the stolen monies. He was working in a business which provided services to body corporates, and his employer was supportive. On his return to practice, he intended to confine himself to body corporate law.

In these circumstances, the Institute contended that an appropriate disposition for the disciplinary charges arising out of the same facts as the criminal charges was: Continue reading “Law Institute seeks 50 year ban for 62 year old solicitor”

Lawyer to gangland figures not guilty of alleged crimes

The Crown entered a nolle prosequi on Tuesday on the charges of giving false evidence against Melbourne’s best known female criminal lawyer, Z G-W. In other words, they dropped the charges before trial for want of a reasonable prospect of conviction. The key witness was unable to remember crucial evidence which the Crown obviously figured he would remember. The most interesting fact to emerge from this latest development in the saga is that one of the bits of allegedly false evidence was that spirits had told the solicitor the details of Lewis Caine’s murder. She said that spirits were talking to her. It will be interesting to see what the Legal Practice Board and VCAT make of all this. The solicitor’s VCAT proceeding is a merits review under the VCAT Act, 1998 of the Board’s decision not to renew the solicitor’s practising certificate. Parties to such proceedings may not refuse to answer questions on the basis of the privilege against self-incrimination: ss. 80(3), 105 of the VCAT Act, 1998 which are reproduced below.

I wonder whether anything would stop the Board from calling the solicitor as its own witness and just asking her whether she lied on oath, or, if she were to give evidence, cross-examining her about this. If she did, she would presumably be obliged to say so honestly, though her answers could not be used to prosecute her again, only to inform VCAT in its decision about whether she is a fit and proper person to hold a practising certifiate. In ascertaining whether a person is of good fame and character, or otherwise a fit and proper person to hold a practising certificate, the stipes are entitled to take into account not only criminal convictions but criminal charges, even where the charge resulted in an acquittal: Frugtniet v Board of Examiners [2002] VSC 140, a decision of Justice Pagone. Continue reading “Lawyer to gangland figures not guilty of alleged crimes”

Barristers never used to need practising certificates

Justice Fullagar narrated the history of practising certificates and barristers in Victorian Lawyers RPA Limited v Henderson [1999] VLPT 13:

‘For brevity we shall refer collectively to the succession of statutes governing legal practice in Victoria from the time of the Royal Assent to the Legal Profession Practice Act 1958 until the present day as the legal practice acts. Until 1989 the legal practice acts did not require a legal practitioner to have a practising certificate if he or she was engaged in practice exclusively as a barrister. In 1989 the legal practice acts were amended, and what might be called the certificate-free area was restricted to those legal practitioners whose names were on the Bar Roll kept by the Victorian Bar Council. Finally the Legal Practice Act of 1996 provided and still provides that so far as Victorian practitioners are concerned no person whatever shall engage in legal practice unless the person holds a practising certificate. See section 314. The contents of sub-sections (5) and (6), and the penalty of two years imprisonment for engaging in practice without a certificate, demonstrate the importance of these fundamental provisions in the eye of the legislature.

Clause 10 sub-clause 3 of Schedule 2 of the Act of 1996 provided that those practitioners who were on the bar roll need not have a practising certificate until April 1997.’