An elder statesman of Victoria’s professional discipline community quietly observed to me the other day that Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner, Victoria Marles, is yet to lay a disciplinary charge before VCAT. That’s an average of none per month over the 16 months her office has existed. In view of the fact that she is required by s. 4.4.13(2) to prosecute every case of intentional or reckless breach of the Legal Profession Act, 2004 or of the solicitors’ or barristers’ conduct rules, this state of affairs, if accurate, suggests that Victoria’s barristers and solicitors are behaving as never before, all of a sudden. The Register of Disciplinary Action certainly does not suggest a high level of activity. Monday’s Law List for VCAT shows Senior Member Howell, formerly the Legal Profession Tribunal’s Registrar, occupied with a Legal Practice List matter, but Member Butcher, formerly that Tribunal’s Deputy Registrar, sitting in other lists, as seems to be a common occurrence.
Interestingly, the redoubtable Daming He is back on Monday in VCAT-pretending-to-be-the-Full-Legal-Profession- Tribunal, presided over by Vice President Bowman. Bowman VP’s new co-Vice President is Marilyn Harbison. Many practitioners know her Honour from when she presided for many years over County Court civil directions days. Vice President Harbison was appointed by the Kennet Government to the County Court in January 1996 after 18 years’ full time legal practice. Her areas of expertise in practice were building and allied disciplines and insolvency, however she has been both a member of a lawyers’ disciplinary tribunal, and a conciliator of solicitor-client disputes under the Legal Profession Practice Act. At the time of her appointment, she was the President of Victoria’s Public Interest Law Clearing House. Now she heads up one of VCAT’s three divisions, the Human Rights Division. Her Honour has already decided a salacious professional discipline case, described in the next post, along with a number of discrimination cases and Working With Children Act cases.
And of course the other news is that Justice Morris has resigned as VCAT’s President, four years into his 5 year term, and has resigned his lifetime appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria in favour of practising at the Bar, though he will not be appearing before the Supreme Court or VCAT for 4 years because of the conduct rules governing barristers. He joins a growing list of retirements from senior judicial office in Victoria after only short stints in favour of a return to the Bar which now includes Justice Tony Pagone of the Supreme Court and Justices Neil Young and Ron Merkel of the Federal Court. More to come, too, I hear.