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.

2 Two dangerous criminals were arrested and charged with the murder. Despite the risks involved, the plaintiff helped the police with their investigation. She supplied them with confidential information, which the police zealously protected because they were concerned for her safety.

3 At the trial of the accused, the prosecution called the plaintiff to give evidence. She was surprised and tried unsuccessfully to discuss the matter with the police. She answered her summons and entered the witness box, but refused to answer questions for fear of reprisals. She was convicted of contempt of court, not because she did not fear reprisals, but because the judge found she did not show the firmness of mind expected of an ordinary person. However, in view of the many mitigating factors, which the judge carefully set out, he acted mercifully. His Honour did not sentence the plaintiff to jail, but to conviction without further penalty.

4 The plaintiff was later charged with unlawful possession of a handgun and giving false evidence at a criminal investigation hearing. These charges have not been dealt with.

5 Under the Legal Profession Act 2004, the plaintiff was obliged to apply for renewal of her practising certificate, which she did. In the circumstances, that application raised important and complex issues, which the Legal Services Board took time to investigate and consider. It did not decide her application within the 60 day period specified in the legislation, but some five months later. The Board refused to renew the plaintiff’s certificate. It gave reasons that were short, not very illuminating and raise certain issues.

6 The plaintiff responded by commencing two proceedings in respect of the Board’s decision: an application for merits review in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal[1] and an application for judicial review in this Court.[2] In the meantime, her former certificate, and hence her entitlement to practice, is deemed to continue by the legislation.

7 At the request of the parties, two preliminary questions have been stated for my consideration.[3] Question one raises the issue whether the Board had power to refuse to renew the certificate after the expiry of the 60 day period. Question two raises the issue whether I should allow the judicial review application to go forward when the plaintiff’s case can be reviewed by the Tribunal.’

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