NSW solicitor who failed to pay counsel’s fees struck off

Updated post (25 July 2014):  The answer to the question posed by the original post is: yes, he will be struck off.  Here are the reasons: Council of the Law Society of NSW V Andreone (No2) [2014] NSWCATOD 81.  His failure to make submissions on the question would not have assisted.  On the question of whether monies received by solicitors from clients for payment of counsel’s fees are trust monies, and on whose behalf they are held, see Legal Services Board v Gillespie-Jones [2013] HCA 35 about which Melbourne University’s Associate Professor Bant’s learned commentary may be found here.

Original post (published as ‘Will Solicitor Who Failed to Pay Counsel’s Fees be Struck Off?’): The Law Society of NSW wants a solicitor who persistently delayed in paying counsel struck off. The NSW equivalent of VCAT has found the professional misconduct established: Council of the Law Society of NSW v Andreone (No. 1) [2014] NSWCATOD 49, and a hearing on sentencing is pending.  In this case, clients had paid bills which included claims by the solicitor for counsel’s fees by electronically depositing monies into the firm’s office account — probably at the firm’s direction, as the Tribunal found.

The Tribunal found without reference to authority that those payments were trust monies to the extent that they satisfied the claims by the solicitor for counsel’s fees, the solicitor not having paid the counsel at the time of their receipt.  In other words, the solicitor held the monies on trust for the barristers. But it seems that the Tribunal considered the solicitor’s misappropriation of trust monies and the failure to pay the fees as separate instances of professional misconduct.  In other words, the mere failure to pay the fees, given its intentionality and persistence, amounted to professional misconduct.  This is what the Tribunal said: Continue reading “NSW solicitor who failed to pay counsel’s fees struck off”

A last-ditch argument

A South Australian solicitor’s last-ditch argument in his brave but unsuccessful battle to stay on the roll of practitioners was:

‘Mr Prescott contends that this Court should not act on the false testimony finding in the strike off application because, even though his testimony in the 2011 hearing was false, he had deluded himself into believing the truth of that testimony.’

The Supreme Court of South Australia did not fall for it, despite the solicitor having obtained from a Mr Ireland, psychologist, a diagnosis of acute stress disorder which hindered his ability to give reliable testimony.  The reasons are at Legal Practitioners Conduct Board v Prescott [2014] SASCFC 41. The Court said:

‘His demeanour when giving evidence before this Court exuded a sense of self assurance and confidence which was incongruous with his claim that he has been overwhelmed by the disciplinary proceeding he has faced over the last decade.’

Needless to say, the Court also engaged in a great deal of other analysis, ultimately preferring the evidence of the Bureau de Spank’s psychiatrist.

Now if there is a jurisdiction where you would hesitate about running an ‘I was mad; I knew not what I done, Guv’ defence, it is probably South Australia, where they had a Royal Commission about the police’s handling of a solicitor whose car collided with a cyclist who died soon after.  The rabid response of an ill-informed public whipped up by shock jocks and politicians insufficiently unwilling to exercise restraint to the solicitor’s explanation for his conduct after the accident (that he was in a state of post trauamatic stress and was acting more like an automoton than usual) continues to provoke headlines there, many years after the tragedy.

Clyne v NSW Bar Association: the leading case on unfounded allegations

Clyne v New South Wales Bar Association (1960) 104 CLR 186; [1960] HCA 40 is a unanimous decision of the Dixon Court confirming the striking off of a Sydney barrister, Peter Clyne, for making unfounded and serious allegations on behalf of a husband against the wife’s solicitor in matrimonial litigation for the admitted purpose of getting the wife’s solicitor out of the case.  Those allegations were in fact made in a private prosecution by the husband of the wife’s solicitor for maintenance. Reading the decision, one might think that striking off the rolls was a relatively harsh penalty by today’s standards for the conduct recorded, especially since his client succeeded at committal in having the wife’s solicitor presented for trial.  And also if one believes Mr Clyne’s autobiography where he asserted:

‘Particulars given by the New South Wales Bar Association made it quite clear that it was not part of the charge to say that my advice to prosecute was wrong, or improper.  Indeed, as I have mentioned before, the advice to prosecute Mann was given in writing, by the eminent and respected Sydney QC, Mr Newton, who later became (and still is) a judge of the New South Wales District Court; and no one has ever criticized Mr Newton for his advice.’

But Mr Clyne had done it before and been sternly warned (see CLR 202) and was unrepentant to the moment he was struck off. Further, he was absolutely one out of the box (he will be the subject of a further blog post) and was no doubt regarded as an excrescence on the legal system to be excised at almost any cost.  He went on to irritate the authorities as a professional tax evader and unashamed advocate of tax evasion, writing many books on the subject and others (e.g. Adventures in Tax Avoidance, How Not to Pay Any Taxes, Guilty But Insane) while living a decadent lifestyle which hopped, first class, between hotels in Sydney and his native Vienna.  Like George Herscu, one of the villains in White Industries v Flower & Hart, Clyne spent time in jail, and only avoided spending more time by fleeing America without a passport while on appeal bail.  He seems to have been intelligent and to have had enough charm to be married to a Welsh entomologist who also wrote many rather different books (e.g. Silkworms, All About Ants, and Plants of Prey).  But his autobiography (Outlaw Among Lawyers; the Peter Clyne Story, Cassell Australia, 1981) reveals a thoroughly dishonest if colourful character with very little if any regard for the law. Continue reading “Clyne v NSW Bar Association: the leading case on unfounded allegations”

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).

Another solicitor struck off for not paying counsel’s fees

A South Australian solicitor has been struck off for a panoply of wrongs, one of which included failing to pay counsel’s fees: Legal Practitioners Conduct Board v Wharff [2012] SASCFC 116.  On this subject, broadly construed, see also: Council of the Law Society of NSW v PJB [2012] NSWADT 153Council of the Law Society of NSW v ML [2012] NSWADT 146, and Council of the Law Society of NSW v HI [2012] NSWADT 203 (where the NSW solicitor was struck off).  See also Legal Services Board v G-J [2012] VSCA 68 (re the Quistclose trust which may arise when a client pays solicitors moneys for the specific purpose of paying counsel’s fees), Victoria Lawyers RPA Limited v M O Lawyers Lawyers Pty Ltd TO217 of 2002, 31 October 2001 and Law Institute of Victoria Limited v SO & GS,TO555 & TO556 of 2005 10 November 2005, and Legal Services Commissioner v JHMcC [2011] VCAT 231 noted in this post.

In Wharff,  A Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court (Kourakis CJ, Blue and Stanley JJ) said:

‘A solicitor who engages a barrister or solicitor agent undertakes a personal liability, either in honour or in contract as the case may be, to pay the barrister’s or agent’s fees, unless otherwise agreed.[3]  Where a legal practitioner undertakes such a personal liability, it is unethical to ignore his or her obligation, and hence a wilful or persistent refusal or failure to pay fees can amount to unprofessional conduct.[4]’


[3]    Rhodes v Fielder, Jones and Harrison [1918-19] All ER 846 at 847 per Lush J (Sanke J agreeing); Re Robb (1996) 134 FLR 294 at 310 per Myles CJ, Gallop and Higgins JJ.

[4]    Rhodes v Fielder, Jones and Harrisons [1918-19] All ER 846 at 847 per Lush J (Sanke J agreeing); Law Society of New South Wales v McCarthy [2002] NSWADT 58 at [46] per Malloy, Robinson QC and Kirk; Law Society of New South Wales v Graham [2007] NSWADT 67 at [29] per Karpin ADCJ, Pheils and Fitzgerald.

Continue reading “Another solicitor struck off for not paying counsel’s fees”

The sting in calling in aid your mental infirmity in disciplinary proceedings

Legal Profession Complaints Committee v DL [2010] WASAT 133 is one of those cases where psychiatric evidence called in aid of the disciplinary defendant, a solicitor, was used in support of the Tribunal’s decision effectively to strike the solicitor off.  In relation to mental illness, the ‘protective not punitive’ mantra of the law of professional discipline has some bite, and it should.  The ‘sting’ can only ever have operation where the psychiatric problem which gave rise to the impugned conduct is also present at the date of the penalty hearing; the only risk in the plea in mitigation ‘I was unwell in my mind at the time I did these things, but I’m better now’ is in not making out the ‘I’m better now’ bit. The Tribunal concluded: Continue reading “The sting in calling in aid your mental infirmity in disciplinary proceedings”

Chief spanks Bureau

Update, 9 August 2010: The Bureau briefed silk and an affidavit from the informant in the child pornography offences made all the difference.  The solicitor again did not turn up, and the Chief disbarred him, ordering him to pay the Board’s costs, though not those of the hearing at which the Bureau failed because of the inadmissibility of its evidence: Legal Services Board v FMcG (No 2) [2010] VSC 332.

Original post: In an amazing segue from my long post about Ziems v The Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of NSW the other day:

There will be a few red faces down at the Bureau de Spank after an unopposed application to have a convict struck off the roll failed: Legal Services Board v FMcG [2010] VSC 266.  The Bureau employee’s affidavits by which it was sought to prove the conviction were inadmissible, and the evidence which would put into context the possession four and a half years ago of child pornography wholly absent.  So ruled the Chief Justice, and she gave the Bureau some advice: Continue reading “Chief spanks Bureau”

Ziems v Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of NSW

Ziems v The Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (1957) 97 CLR 279; [1957] HCA 46 is a much-cited decision in the law which governs the pointy end of professional discipline of lawyers: striking off the roll.  A majority held that where a lawyer is convicted of even a serious criminal offence — drink driving in this case — it is appropriate, in enquiring whether she or he should be struck off, to enquire into the conduct which was the subject of the charge, and even into the conduct of the trial; the fact of conviction is not necessarily inconsistent with fitness for practice.  What follows is a long file note of the case, the facts of which are more than usually interesting: drunken sailors, innocent maidens, gallant barristers, fisticuffs, blood, carnage on the roads, prosecutorial misconduct, and 2 years’ imprisonment with hard labour for the barrister for drink driving.  I was prompted to do it because all five judges wrote separate decisions, none expressly agreeing with the other. Continue reading “Ziems v Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of NSW”

Pagone J hesitates before making consent order striking QC off Victorian roll

A Victorian QC was jailed this year by a County Court judge for 2 with a minimum of 6 months for possessing child pornography.  Recently, the Legal Services Board applied to the Supreme Court for an order striking him off.  The QC did not appear but communicated his willingess to be struck off by signing consent orders to that effect.  Concisely, Justice Pagone said:

1 This application is brought under s 2.4.42(5) of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (Vic) for the removal from the local roll of [the] QC who has been a member of the legal profession in this State for many years.

2 The basis upon which the application is made is the satisfaction of the Legal Services Board of the matters that it is required to be satisfied about in s 2.4.42. The matter for my consideration is whether [the QC] is, as events and facts are now known, not a fit and proper person to be on the roll.

3 The test can be seen from the three cases to which I have been referred: the Law Society of South Australia v Rodda;[1] the decision of Hansen J in Law Institute of Victoria v Gough;[2] and the more recent decision of Forrest J in Legal Services Board v Bourozikas.[3]

6 The conduct of [the QC] for which he has been found guilty was not conduct committed in the performance of his practice as a lawyer. Many lawyers engage in conduct which is wrongful but does not justify them being struck off the roll. The circumstances in which a lawyer, having committed an offence and has been found guilty of having committed an offence, other than in their conduct in legal practice, which justifies being struck off, is in part a reflection of community standards. However, it is not enough that an offence has been committed. Otherwise, the mere incurring of traffic fines would probably find few lawyers practicing anywhere. Continue reading “Pagone J hesitates before making consent order striking QC off Victorian roll”

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”

Schapelle Corby’s former lawyer struck off

Robin Tampoe, the former Gold Coast lawyer hired as one of Schapelle Corby’s lawyers by Ron Bakir, has been struck off the roll of solicitors by Queensland’s Legal Practice Tribunal. The decision is here.  Removal from the roll is the ultimate sanction in the world of professional discipline, though in circumstances where it is not apparent that Mr Tampoe intended in the future to practise law anyway, it is interesting that there does not seem to have been any push for a substantial fine.

Mr Tampoe did not contest the charge of professional misconduct comprised of disclosing on a national breakfast television show confidential information obtained during his retainer about criminal convictions of members of the Corby Family.  Nor did he contest the unsatisfactory conduct comprised of commentating on his own defence strategies and calling his client’s family the biggest pile of trash he had ever come across in his life. That conduct was characterised as ‘scandalous, offensive and/or likely to bring the profession into disrepute’.  You can still watch some of the conduct in question on Channel 9’s website. Continue reading “Schapelle Corby’s former lawyer struck off”

Beak bribe boast bars barro

Legal Services Commissioner v JDG [2008] LPT 17 is a shocking case in which a Queensland barrister was struck off after he lied when confronted by investigators with the true proposition that he had offered to pay a $50,000 bribe to a Magistrate or Crown prosecutor on behalf of a client.  He also took $59,000 in cash from the direct access client and popped it into his safe.  He used some of it to feed his gambling.  He should, of course, have chucked it into a special account.  He told his client that: Continue reading “Beak bribe boast bars barro”

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”

Burden of proof in actions to cancel a practising certificate or strike a lawyer off the roll of practitioners

In Stanoevski v Council of the Law Society of NSW [2008] NSWCA 93, Justice of Appeal Campbell, with whom Justice of Appeal Hodgson and Acting Justice of Appeal Handley agreed, has provided important guidance on who bears which burdens of proof in cases where a legal regulator seeks to cancel a practising certificate or have a lawyer struck from the roll. (Cancellation by a legal regulator of a practising certificate lasts only as long as the practising certificate (i.e. until the end of the financial year), whereas striking off the roll lasts until an application for readmission succeeds, at which point, an application may be made for a practising certificate. To complicate things, though, cancellation of a practising certificate as a result of a disciplinary hearing by VCAT may result in a condition that the lawyer not reapply for practising certificate for a specific period. Being struck off the roll and having your practising certificate cancelled are not all that different really.) In summary, the situation is as follows:

  • applicants for admission have the burden of establishing that they are fit and proper persons to be admitted to practice and enrolled by signing the roll of practitioners: Re B [1981] 2 NSWLR 372 at 403; Wentworth v NSW Bar Association (Court of Appeal, 14 February 1994, unreported) at 5;
  • legal regulators who apply for an order cancelling a practitioner’s practising certificate have a civil onus of proving on the Briginshaw standard that the practitioner is not, at the time of the hearing, a fit and proper person to practise;
  • legal regulators who apply for an order striking off a practitioner, that is, for an order that their name be struck off the roll of practitioners, have a civil onus of proving on the Briginshaw standard that the lawyer is not a fit and proper person to practise, and that the likelihood is that they will continue not to be for the indefinite future;
  • lawyers who have either been struck off, or who have been found guilty of misconduct but rely on remediation during the time between the misconduct and the hearing so as to argue that they are now fit to engage in practice bear the burden of proving that the new leaf they have turned over is as green and shiny as they claim. Continue reading “Burden of proof in actions to cancel a practising certificate or strike a lawyer off the roll of practitioners”

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”

From the newspapers

Friday is definitely law news day. The Australian and the Australian Financial Review both have several pages of law news of a Friday. I might try to bring to the attention of you readers articles of interest from both on a relatively regular basis.

First though, some things from not-Friday. ABC Radio National’s The Law Report has the founder of Crimassist (which I mentioned here) tête-à-tête with the CEO of the Law Institute of Victoria. And The Age reported this week on a VCAT Legal Practice List case where a legal regulator is again alleged to have put illegally obtained evidence to use against a lawyer, this time the lawyer towards the centre of the tax fraud investigation, Project Wickenby. His bid to stay his disciplinary hearing pending what he said were imminent criminal charges failed, and the disciplinary hearing will proceed on Tuesday.

The Times has an article on a House of Lords decision which has put an end to what sounds like a relatively undesirable system in Old Blighty of allowing prosecutors to apply ex parte for orders anonymising witnesses in fear of their life if they testify. Better to preserve the common law rule that a defendant is entitled to confront his accusers than to risk some guilty folk walking free for want of evidence against them.  And the English are reviewing their system of no-win no-pay retainers. But unlike in Victoria, where the maximum success fee is 25% of the ‘normal’ fee (whatever that is), in England, a solicitor whose client succeeds can double their ‘normal fee’.

Le Oz has an article on a 34 year old Perth lawyer convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice by convincing a witness not to give evidence against her de facto, who stood charged with conspiracy to commit a violent crime. The Western Australian Legal Practitioners Complaints Committee was meeting yesterday to consider her future as a lawyer. The comparison with that other case involving a 30 something female criminal lawyer and her late gangster de facto may be interesting. It also reports that the inter-state argy-bargy on a uniform national electronic conveyancing system in which Victoria has featured prominently has been resolved. A good thing too: this boring subject was clogging the Legal Affairs pages for too long. Meanwhile, the Conveyancers Act, 2006 (Vic.) came into operation on 1 July 2008. It repeals the bit in the Legal Profession Act, 2004 about conveyancers.

Amazingly, The Fin has a man with a barrister’s wig on its front page with the caption ‘Many barristers have grown frustrated with outdated practices’ as a hook to an article about the not especially newsworthy opening up of a new 18 room barristers chambers. It’s privately run you see, unlike the chambers owned by the Victorian Bar where 63 per cent of Victoria’s barristers are accommodated. I went and checked out Dawson Chambers today. They’re pretty flash, and house several of my mates, but sport views of the next door building. They’re set up by Stephen O’Bryan SC and David Klempfner. Stephen’s brother Norman O’Bryan SC is my landlord at Melbourne Chambers.

The Fin also reports on a NSW law which will make it a criminal offence for causing ‘annoyance or inconvenience’ to participants in World Youth Day. I wonder whether there is a Papal immunity which will immunise his Holiness from prosecution for the inconvenience of the sinfulness of contraception.

Former Marsdens partner struck off the roll of solicitors in NSW

Here’s a decision from the NSW Court of Appeal, apparently exercising original jurisdiction, in which a former partner of Marsdens in Campbellfield was struck off the roll by consent for receiving secret commissions of $180,000 amongst other things, including deceiving the investigation into that conduct: Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of NSW v Alcorn [2007] NSWCA 288. The analysis of whether the solicitor was a fit and proper person was as follows: Continue reading “Former Marsdens partner struck off the roll of solicitors in NSW”

2nd edition of Professional Liability in Australia reviewed

I was already a fan of the first edition of Judge Stephen Walmsley SC, Alister Abadee, and Ben Zipser‘s excellent Professional Liability in Australia, published by Thomson, and had been waiting for the new edition with interest. I got myself a copy the other day. It’s good, and there are substantial additions since the first edition, including a lot on expert evidence, a new bit on professional discipline, analysis of the Financial Services Reform Act, 2001, analysis of the cases on the civil liability acts and a good analysis of proportionate liability.

It is a text which delves into all of the legislation which clusters around professional liability these days and grapples with it, a thankless task for an Australian text writer compelled to read and understand all of the states’ and territories’ regimes and then synthesise them. So the availability of compensation in professional discipline regimes is treated properly, as is the effect of professional standards legislation, which caps liability for scheme mebers. The research is wide-ranging and thorough: a VCAT decision is cited. It is written from a practical perspective rather than a theoretical perspective. There is not the over-reliance on English authority which sometimes characterises texts in this area. The writing tends to take positions rather than carrying on at great length about parallel or divergent lines of authorities without suggesting which is to be preferred. One suspects that bad decisions have simply been ignored in the hope that they will be forgotten. If only more text writers would operate in this fashion.

Professional negligence is one of those areas of law in which everyone claims to be a specialist. There are, for example, 387 barristers at the Victorian Bar who claim on their web profile to practise in professional negligence. Then there are undoubtedly many others, like me, who haven’t listed their practice areas using the scheme which allows for searching like that.

Thomson has kindly offered a 10% discount for readers of this blog if you go to their bookshop at 160 William St, Melbourne. Alternatively, the book can be purchased online, for $220 inclusive of postage and handling.

Continue reading “2nd edition of Professional Liability in Australia reviewed”

Court of Appeal sets aside unduly harsh outcome in gross overcharging prosecution

PJQ v Law Institute of Victoria[2007] VSCA 122 is the part 1 of the last chapter in a story of good tactical plays characteristic of professional discipline specialist Sam Tatarka in the representation of a solicitor charged with gross overcharging, and applying trust monies to pay his fees without the appropriate paperwork. It sounds like a plea bargain was entered into whereby the solicitor pleaded guilty to the charges on the basis that what led to the overcharging was overzealous representation and disorganization rather than dishonesty and in return, the prosecutor — the Law Institute of Victoria — would not make submissions as to penalty. But that is speculation. When it came time for ‘sentencing’, the solicitor offered an undertaking to the Tribunal that any file in which he proposed to charge more than $20,000 would be independently costed by a costs consultant. The Tribunal enquired whether he would submit to such costing by the Law Institute’s costs assessing service. The solicitor said yes.

In Law Institute of Victoria Limited v PJQ [2005] VLPT 8, the Full Legal Profession Tribunal came down hard, accepting the expert opinion of a man without a law degree that appropriate legal costs for a proceeding of the kind in which the solicitor had represented his client were half what he had charged, and suspending the solicitor from practice for 12 months. To the surprise of the President of the Court of Appeal, the Tribunal made no mention of the alternative to suspension represented by the undertaking despite going through the ritualistic ‘no punishment happening here’ recitations (‘Our task does not involve punishment of the legal practitioner. Our task is to provide for the protection of the public, including deterrence of the legal practitioner and the profession generally from like conduct…’; ‘Conscious of the necessity to place the barrier high before depriving a member of the profession of their practising certificate we have given all the circumstances of this case the most careful and repeated consideration.’ etc.).

President Maxwell, with whom Justices Chernov and Nettle agreed, held that the Tribunal’s inexplicable failure to mention in its reasons the undertaking offer suggested that its sentencing discretion had miscarried.  His Honour actually acknowledged with refreshing forthrightness that penalisation is part of sentencing for professional discipline offences, but, by his words, sought to give real meaning to the concept that protection of the public is what professional discipline is all about, by quashing the Full Tribunal’s orders and, on resentencing, making no orders in recognition of the substantial costs already incurred by the solicitor and the partially endured suspension: Continue reading “Court of Appeal sets aside unduly harsh outcome in gross overcharging prosecution”

So-called lawyer to the underworld fails in challenge to ticket non-renewal

Melbourne’s best known female criminal lawyer was convicted some time ago of contempt of court for refusing to answer questions on oath in a Supreme Court murder trial of her husband’s murderers: as I reported here. She has sought review of that decision in VCAT, and sought judicial review from the Supreme Court as well. That latter course failed today, partly because of the availability of her remedies in the VCAT proceedings, which may still result in the renewal of her practising certificate. Until that case is decided, she is entitled to keep practising. See The Age‘s article here, and Justice Kevin Bell’s judgment in ZGW v Legal Services Board [2007] VSC 225 here. It begins by sketching out the background issues and the questions for determination in the case:

‘1 The plaintiff, a young and intelligent solicitor, was working hard in a firm specialising in criminal law. She met a man who was one of its clients and the two formed a relationship. They were living together as husband and wife when he was murdered. Continue reading “So-called lawyer to the underworld fails in challenge to ticket non-renewal”