Morwell solicitor to pay $5,500 for ignoring Bureau de Spank

A Morwell solicitor has been ordered to pay a fine of $3,000 and costs of almost $2,500 for ignoring the Legal Services Commissioner’s demands under the Legal Profession Act, 2004 power resident in her to compel written explanations of conduct the subject of a complaint and to compel the production of documents — in this case, the file in relation to the matter which was the subject of the complaint. The case is Legal Services Commissioner v NT [2007] VCAT 1987. I was down at the Tribunal that day for a matter in which I was briefed in the Legal Practice List. When that was over, I popped in to watch this matter at random. The solicitor had not showed up, and the advocate was leading a winsome witness from the Commissioner’s office through her evidence. Turns out that the advocate was a staff member of the Commissioner’s office. The Commissioner is absolutely to be commended for keeping costs down in this way. If the police can prosecute complex crimes in the Magistrates’ Court, there is no reason why the Bureau should not have an in-house advocate — or a member of the Bar on retainer — to do simple prosecutions. How the costs of $2,500 odd were arrived at is a different and interesting question, but I cannot comment on that since it does not appear from the reasons.

The decision records that the Commissioner wrote to the solicitor, without any substantive response on 11 May 2006, 19 May 2006, 1 June 2006, 20 June 2006, 27 March 2007 and 14 June 2007. At the hearing, Senior Member Howell expressed incredulity at the fact that this grindingly slow routine of letter writing had been going on for so long without the Commissioner popping into Morwell to see what in God’s name was going on down there, or delegating a local practitioner to do so. That did not make it into his written reasons, which say only that ‘The Commissioner has been extremely patient in her dealings with Mr. [T]. She regularly extended the date for compliance with her requirements, but that did not lead to compliance. The time has come for stronger measures.’

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