Under the Legal Profession Act 2004, if a lawyer applied for renewal of their practising certificate prior to the expiry of the old one, but a decision was not made before the old one runs out, the certificate is extended until either it is renewed or a decision to refuse renewal is finally determined by the exhaustion of all rights of review of that decision. No one has ever really known what that meant. There is a statutory review procedure in VCAT and then there are appeals all the way to the High Court. Are the appeals from the review ‘a right of review of the decision’? The Supreme Court has now determined that the certificate endures (if not earlier cancelled or suspended by the stipes) until the end of the High Court appeal.
The question arose in Batrouney v Forster (No 2)  VSC 541, handed down by Justice Robson yesterday (see paras  – ). It represents a further embarrassment for the Legal Services Board appointed receivers of David Forster’s practice, Hollows Lawyers, with a savage series of costs orders against the receivers in Mr Forster’s favour. That followed findings that the receivers’ proceedings were in part misconceived, and that they breached more than one provision of the Civil Procedure Act 2010. The question was at what point did Mr Forster cease to hold a practising certificate and so cease to be entitled to claim costs of acting for himself under the Cachia v Hanes (1994) 179 CLR 403 at 411–413 exception to the rule that self-represented litigants are not entitled to costs for work done by themselves.
The question is a matter of significance to practitioners who get themselves fairly deep into trouble. It means that those whose practising certificates are not renewed may continue to practice and earn income to put towards the legal costs of challenging that decision, and it also means that such practitioners may brief counsel directly in circumstances where, by virtue of Bar rules about direct access, they might not otherwise be able to. And of course, it also means that if successful in such proceedings, they will get a costs indemnity against the time spent running their litigation.
Mr Forster is a man with his back to the wall, the subject of an avalanche of litigation brought by professional regulators. Until recently, he had been singularly unsuccessful and much chastised. It is probably fair to say that some people in the administration of justice, including the profession, would see him as a pariah. It ought therefore be of some comfort to those responsible for the justice system that this result has obtained. It suggests that the cab rank principle is alive and well, that judges are capable of dealing with each case impartially on its merits and according to law without being unduly influenced by past cases, and that the State will not protect itself where the law requires that it be dealt with.