Legal Services Commissioner v JDG  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:
‘he would lie by saying to others that he worked as [the client’s] barrister for nothing when in fact he was being paid substantial fees; he would conceal from others, including the Australian Taxation Office, the fees paid to him for acting as [the client’s] barrister; and he would deliver a tax invoice and receipt for those fees on the basis that the documents would be concealed from others, including the Australian Taxation Office, and kept by [the client] to prevent [the barrister] from later claiming that he had not been paid.’
The barrister’s de facto mentioned to the client the possibility of ‘achieving “a good result” at the committal proceeding by paying $50,000 to the magistrate.’ The Tribunal found that:
‘[The barrister] was, he said, “happy to explore the option”. Shortly afterwards, he contributed the thought that: “we might have more chance with the prosecutor than we would with the magistrate”, adding “anything’s possible. There’s plenty of ways to go.”’
Not knowing that he was on tape, the barrister when confronted denied the allegation, said that if such a suggestion had been made by a client:
“I would have told them it’s an absurd suggestion and not to raise it again … I’m an officer of the court and … I certainly wouldn’t entertain a conversation let alone proceed to do something like that. It is a ridiculous suggestion … I would never (have) done that.”
At the hearing, he admitted breaching a rule about putting monies for work yet to be done into a trust account (he said he was unaware of the rule), and admitted engaging in conduct likely to bring the profession into disrepute (though he said he never intended anyone to take seriously the comments which he was forced to admit he had in fact made). He was struck off the roll, and ordered to pay the Legal Service Commissioner’s costs, but escaped a fine.
There are a couple of unusual aspects of the matter. The cash in the safe was identified by reference to the serial numbers on the notes. And the conversation about the bribe was recorded. How this unusual state of affairs came about is not made clear from the reasons because the barrister admitted the charges.
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