Legal Services Commissioner seeks to overturn privilege against penalties

There is an old and well established privilege, the privilege against penalties, which is a relative of the privilege against self-incrimination.  It entitles solicitors facing disciplinary prosecution to stay silent throughout the proceedings until the end of the Commissioner’s case unless the Tribunal makes an order requiring provision of written grounds and an outline of argument identifying in broad terms what is in issue.  And even if such an order is made, compliance will not require the foreshadowing of any evidence or the admitting or denying of any facts.

The other day, a full frontal attack by the Legal Services Commissioner on the privilege in disciplinary prosecutions of solicitors did not result in it being distinguished out of existence.  Though there was no contradictor in the hearing, the President of VCAT, Justice Greg Garde, gave the challenge short shrift in LSC v Spaulding [2015] VCAT 292.

Since practitioners started increasingly exercising their right to stay silent after the disciplinary investigation has concluded and before the conclusion of the Commissioner’s case, the Commissioner has begun increasingly to seek orders for the service of a notice to admit, despite the absence of any rule-based regime in VCAT governing the consequences of non-response to such notices.  Some practitioners have consented to such orders and VCAT has made them.  There may be grounds to review decisions in such cases where the practitioner did not ‘waive’ the privilege, since President Ross said:

‘in the absence of a statutory provision to the contrary, or waiver by a respondent, the effect of penalty privilege is that a respondent cannot be ordered to make discovery, produce documents, provide information or respond to a notice to admit.’

Waiver as a concept in the law generally requires a high level of deliberate abandonment.  No doubt for that reason, the Commissioner began some time ago to alert practitioners to the existence of the privilege when proposing such orders.

President Garde has also made clear that the Tribunal itself has a duty ‘to ensure that a respondent is informed of the options in order to make an informed and voluntary decision whether or not to waive the privilege.’

The President also observed that many professionals will wish to make admissions if for no other reason than to be seen  to be appropriately cooperative, and to attenuate the issues and so diminish the costs which will be payable if the practitioner loses.  My clients often make extensive admissions, sometimes make denials, but often remain silent in relation to some issues and strenuously resist the characterisation of such silences the matters about which they have stayed silent as ‘denials’.  There is, however, nothing to be gained from consenting to an order to provide a response to a notice to admit.  When, as I have found to be the case, the notices are framed in a manner which purports to graft onto VCAT’s procedures a presumption of admission in the event of non-denial, great procedural uncertainty is generated, because, unlike in the state courts, there are no rules of procedure which provide a legal basis to generate such an admission.  And it will often be more convenient for the practitioner to craft the admissions in the form he or she considers most appropriate, possibly in a discursive letter, and at a time convenient to him or her.  Furthermore, the notices to admit usually track the allegations in the Application itself extremely closely, regardless of the admissions made during the investigation in correspondence which is annexed to the Application, so that the requirement to respond to the notice to admit is akin to a requirement to serve a defence, and the drafting, filing and service of the notice to admit generates a substantial cost on a party-party basis.

Finally, for some reason, no one ever seeks orders to serve notices to admit on the Commissioner.  If, for some reason, one were to consent to orders for the provision of a response to a notice to admit, it would seem appropriate to me to reserve a right to reciprocity. Continue reading “Legal Services Commissioner seeks to overturn privilege against penalties”

WA disciplinary tribunal says it’s misconduct for a doctor passing a crash not to stop and offer assistance

Update: This decision was reversed on appeal: Dekker v Medical Board of Australia [2014] WASCA 216.  The Court of Appeal did not find that there was no duty to assist.  Rather, they found that there was insufficient evidence before the disciplinary tribunal for it to find the existence and acceptance in the profession of such a duty, because the existence of such a duty was never put to the doctor by the tribunal and because the tribunal failed to take into account on the question of liability (as opposed to penalty) all the surrounding circumstances, including that the doctor was in a state of shock.

Original post: Eleven and a half years after a 2002 car accident south of Port Headland a radiologist has been found guilty of the Westralians’ version of professional misconduct (‘improper professional conduct’) but not of conduct which peers would regard as disgraceful or dishonourable, for failing to render medical assistance.  The decision is Medical Board of Australia v Dekker  [2013] WASAT 182.  It makes a bold assertion of general application without identifying or discussing any authority about the factual scenario in question, which must surely occur regularly all over the world and — one would have thought — be much pondered:

’39 It is improper conduct in a professional respect for a medical practitioner who is aware that a motor vehicle accident has or may have occurred in their vicinity and that anyone involved has or may have suffered injury not to make an assessment of the situation, including the nature of any injuries and needs of persons involved, and render assistance, by way of first aid, when the practitioner is physically able to do so, notwithstanding that the practitioner immediately reports the matter to police or other emergency services. It matters not that there is no existing professional relationship between a medical practitioner and the persons involved in the accident. Because saving human life and healing sick and injured people is a core purpose and ethic of the medical profession, and because members of the profession have the knowledge and skills to do so, the failure by a medical practitioner to make an assessment and render assistance when he or she is aware that a motor vehicle accident has or may have occurred in their vicinity and that people have or may have been injured, when the practitioner is physically able to do so, would, notwithstanding that the practitioner reports the matter immediately to police or other emergency services, reasonably be regarded as improper by medical practitioners of good repute and competency, and there is a sufficiently close link or nexus with the profession of medicine.’

Civil liability in tort has been imposed on a doctor who refused to attend upon an emergency involving a non-patient: Lowns v Woods [1996] Aust Torts Reports 81-376 (NSWCA).  But in that case the then proximity-based test for establishment of a duty of care was satisfied by a number of factors which included that:

  • a request was made for assistance in respect of what the doctor understood to be a medical emergency which he was willing to provide (but only on the condition that the patient be brought by ambulance to his practice);
  • he was specifically told that ‘We need a doctor.  We have already got an ambulance’;
  • he was able to do so: he was at work, available, competent at administering the requisite treatment, and could have done so promptly being only 300 m away from the patient;
  • to attend involved no threat to his person;
  • he was not incapacitated so as to make giving treatment more difficult: he was not drunk, or ill, or tired; and
  • there were statutory provisions which made it misconduct to fail to render assistance to a person in urgent need of medical attention without reasonable excuse.

See Kylie Day’s ‘Medical Negligence – the Duty to Attend Emergencies and the Standard of Care: Lowns v Woods(1996) 18(3) Sydney Law Review 386.

The tortious duty was squarely founded on the fact of a request in a professional context for treatment of the kind in which the doctor practised. Public policy was expressly acknowledged as relevant to the determination of the tortious liability. Since the existence of a professional obligation was a matter that told in favour of the development of a new category of duty of care, civil lawyers ought not be entirely blase about the latest apparent development of the disciplinary law courtesy of the Westralians.

Continue reading “WA disciplinary tribunal says it’s misconduct for a doctor passing a crash not to stop and offer assistance”

A reprimand is not just a slap over the wrist; the value of precedents in disciplinary sentencing

In Peeke v Medical Board of Victoria [1994] VicSC 7 at p. 6, Marks J commented in a judgment substituting a reprimand for the inferior tribunal’s 6 month suspension that a reprimand should not be regarded as a trivial penalty:

‘I have mentioned that the Board referred to a reprimand as trivialising a serious lapse in professional standards.  I am not able to agree with the Board that a reprimand is a trivial penalty.  It may be inappropriate or inadequate in many circumstances, but a reprimand, to a professional person, has the potential for serious adverse implications.’ Continue reading “A reprimand is not just a slap over the wrist; the value of precedents in disciplinary sentencing”

NSWCA on professional discipline

A GP was struck off after a hearing lasting 40 days. He was found to suffer a delusional disorder. The New South Wales Court of Appeal recently delivered a long judgment in an appeal from that decision, as reported on ABC: Lindsay v Health Care Complaints Commission [2010] NSWCA 194.  The quote the doctor got for the defence of the disciplinary proceedings, which raised multifarious issues, was $800,000.  So the doctor represented himself, cross-examining each of the 48 witnesses called against him at length.

The leading judgment of Acting Justice of Appeal Sackville, with whom the other judges agreed, considers the requirements of natural justice to be afforded to an unrepresented professional in a case involving as many issues as this one did, and with as serious a potential consequence.  His Honour concluded that the Medical Tribunal of NSW unduly restricted the doctor’s cross-examination, but found that the consequences did not justify a retrial.  The reasons also consider the obligations on tribunals who hear such serious cases as applications to deprive professionals of their livelihoods but which have a procedure and evidence regime which is more or less entirely in the discretion of the decision makers.  In this case, the charge was amended to include a new allegation, based on the doctor’s evidence at the hearing. Continue reading “NSWCA on professional discipline”

Z v Dental Complaints Assessment Committee

Z v Dental Complaints Assessment Committee [2008] NZSC 55 is an important case which considers in depth just how quasi-criminal professional discipline proceedings should be.  It is a decision of New Zealand’s Supreme Court, their equivalent of our High Court, now 6 years old.  It considers the disciplinary prosecution of a dentist, acquitted of sexually assaulting sedated patients, against whom disciplinary proceedings were brought in respect of the same conduct as was the subject of the criminal charges.  That the rule against double jeopardy (i.e. the doctrine of autrefois acquit) had no operation was accepted by the dentist.  But he argued that the disciplinary proceedings were an abuse of process.  Four of the five judges agreed with him in relation to one only of the particulars of professional misconduct, while one judge said even that should be allowed to go ahead.  One of the four judges, Chief Justice Elias, held that all of the particulars of misconduct were an abuse of process.  The second issue was what standard of proof these disciplinary charges had to be established to.  All but the Chief Justice held that the appropriate standard was the civil standard informed by what we would call the Briginshaw principles.  The Chief Justice, however, argued persuasively in favour of the imposition of the criminal standard in serious professional disciplinary proceedings. Continue reading “Z v Dental Complaints Assessment Committee”

Can’t keep up

Many new decisions of interest are coming out and I will not have time to blog them any time soon as I have to go to University and concentrate on my latest and hopefully last field of study, Shareholders Rights and Remedies.  Here are some pointers in case you want to read this slew of the new yourself.

Here is a landmark English case on illegally obtained evidence in civil proceedings: Imerman v Tchenguiz [2010] EWCA Civ 908, and CMS Cameron McKenna’s case note.  A husband in business with his wife’s brother separated from his wife.  Worried that he would hide assets from the wife, the brother copied information from the husband’s computer.  The English Court of Appeal refused to admit the evidence.  One of the little changes wrought by the Victorian Evidence Act, 2008 is to make clear that illegally obtained evidence may be inadmissible in civil proceedings as much as in criminal proceedings.

Then there is a mega-solicitor’s negligence decision from NSW’s District Court’s Judge Levy: Mills v Bale [2010] NSWDC 162.  It was a regretted settlement case of the kind I wrote about in ‘Compromise of litigation and lawyers’ liability’ (2002) 10 Torts Law Journal 267.  The client accepted a fraction of his claim on the basis of advice that the other side had ‘damning video evidence’ and that he might get nothing if he went to trial. The solicitor had no file note of the relevant conversation and no recollection of the alleged events. The client won more than $700,000, a rare victory since such cases do not often succeed. The judgment is 807 paragraphs long.  Analysis of the witnesses’ credit occupies 100 paragraphs.

Two from Victoria’s Court of Appeal:

  • First, Justice of Appeal Ashley with whom Acting Justice of Appeal Beach agreed, pronounced the latest chapter in the extraordinary saga of Shaw v Gadens Lawyers, another victory for professional negligence specialist Sam Tatarka.  It has not been published on Austlii, but was delivered on 3 August 2010. The Court confirmed that when VCAT determines civil disputes involving compensation claims, they do not entertain a cause of action created by the Legal Profession Act, 2004.  Rather, they are given a statutory grant to hear professional negligence cases according to common law principles.  Let me know if you want a copy.
  • Secondly, the latest in the saga of Byrne v Marles (see this earlier post about the earlier decision which threw the Legal Services Commissioner’s office into chaos): Byrne v Legal Services Commissioner [2010] VSCA 162.  Mr Byrne successfully sought judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision to characterise a complainant’s complaint as a disciplinary complaint.  The Appealohs held that there was a breach of natural justice in failing to provide an opportunity for the solicitor to be heard on that question.  The Commissioner appears then to have written to every complainant and given them an opportunity to make submissions.  Mr Byrne made submissions, and the Commissioner, unmoved, came to the same decision.  He sought judicial review of that, and that is what this decision is about.  He failed, but along the way, had the former Commissioner re-spanked.  The former Commissioner’s reasons for reaffirming her original classification, absolutely typical of the reasons I have seen her give in a template-like manner, over and over, were described by Justice of Appeal Ashley at [96] as ‘too smart by half. They invited further proceedings’.  In fact, his Honour found at [63] that they were not reasons at all; they were just a statement of the conclusion which the reasons should have supported.

Another decision of the utmost importance to this blog, which again passed me by, is the decision of New Zealand’s Supreme Court (equivalent to our High Court) in Z v Dental Complaints Assessment Committee [2009] 1 NZLR 1; [2008] NZSC 55.  More to come, needless to say.  Meanwhile, You will appreciate my interest in the case when you consider that the Chief Justice opined that disciplinary proceedings making serious allegations should be proved on the criminal standard of proof (remember what Justice Finkelstein said about disciplinary proceedings?), as opposed to the civil burden as explained in Briginshaw v Briginshaw.  Paragraph no. 1 of the Chief Justice’s reasons said: Continue reading “Can’t keep up”

Prosecutors’ duties in professional discipline cases

There is an interesting article by Ian Wheatley at (2008) 16 Journal of Law and Medicine 193.  Titled ‘The Criminalisation of Professional Misconduct Under the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 (Vic): How is a Fine of $50,000 Not Punitive?’. It compares the rights of alleged criminals and the maximum sentences in criminal law, with the rights of doctors alleged in disciplinary proceedings to have committed disciplinary wrongs of a similar degree of seriousness, and pours some much-needed acid on the hymn sung by so many Bureaux de Spank that the proceedings are ‘purely protective of the public’ and involve no element of punishment.  But what protections actually exist for respondents in professional disciplinary proceedings?  It is the purpose of this post to examine three of them.

First, I have posted before about the application of the privilege against penalties to disciplinary proceedings, and about what Justice Finkelstein said in Australian Securities and Investments Commission v Mining Projects Group Limited [2007] FCA 1620:

‘I would hold that a regulatory body that brings a civil proceeding to recover a penalty is under an obligation similar to that owed by a prosecutor to an accused.’

Secondly, in addition to this principle, many bodies and statutory officers charged with prosecuting professionals are governed by the governments’ model litigant rules.  Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner is a model litigant, and so is governed by these guidelines (which include an obligation to avoid litigation where possible, to keep the costs of litigation as low as possible, and not to take advantage of respondents to disciplinary charges who lack the resources to litigate the disciplinary claim).

But where a barrister is involved in the prosecution, it is, at least in Victoria, surely the application of the conduct rules in criminal proceedings which comes closest to requiring the kind of conduct which Justice Finkelstein considers to be appropriate.  And this is the third thing.  The Victorian Bar’s practice rules define ‘criminal proceedings’ as follows:

‘includes disciplinary proceedings, in which context other expressions appropriate to criminal proceedings include corresponding meanings appropriate to disciplinary proceedings and in particular “a serious criminal offence” includes a disciplinary shortcoming which, if proved, involves the serious possibility of suspension or deregistration (or the equivalent).’ Continue reading “Prosecutors’ duties in professional discipline cases”

Shrink chucks a Hercules re fellow shrink’s Medical Board complaint

Readers, to ‘chuck a Hercules’ is to follow in the footsteps of Keith Hercules, solicitor, of Melbourne whose suit for defamation against the complainant in respect of the complainant’s publication of a disciplinary complaint to the Law Institute is the subject of Hercules v Phease [1994] 2 VR 411, which I noted here.  (Compare Lincoln v Daniels [1962] 1 QB 237, Rajski v Carson (1988) 15 NSWLR 84, Lansley v Gaynon [2001] NSWSC 695, and Foley v Radford [2008] NSWDC 167.)  Now one psychiatrist has has sued another for defamation, injurious falsehood, and misleading and deceptive conduct over his complaint to the Medical Board.  The case is Lucire v Parmegiani [2010] NSWDC 115. You can read the letter below, and find out about NSW’s mandatory reporting regime which requires doctors to dob each other in on pain of disciplinary sanction if they don’t.

The defamation claim was dismissed summarily by reference to a statutory absolute privilege defence.  Judge Gibson suggested in dicta that the common law equivalent was of only qualified privilege, a finding which was said to be consistent with Mann v O’Neill (1997) 191 CLR 204, but apparently inconsistent with the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Victoria’s decision in Hercules v Phease, which said that the publication of a complaint about a lawyer is an occasion of absolute privilege.  Mind you, the District Court’s attention does not seem to have been drawn to Hercules v Phease. The injurious falsehood claim was not summarily dismissed, because the statutory protection did not apply, and likewise the misleading and deceptive conduct claim.  Judge Gibson was not even prepared to find, at this early stage of the proceedings, that the writing of the letter was not an activity in ‘trade or commerce’, suggesting that ‘the bringing of complaints has long been regarded as conduct being capable of giving rise to a cause of action under s 52 Trade Practices Act 1975 (Cth): Merman Pty Ltd v Cockburn Concrete Ltd (1988) 84 ALR 521.’ Continue reading “Shrink chucks a Hercules re fellow shrink’s Medical Board complaint”

Poorer students more likely to end up committing professional misconduct

A study in the British Medical Journal has suggested that students from poorer families and students with poor marks are more likely to engage in serious professional misconduct than other students.  It should really suggest that such students are more likely to get caught engaging in serious professional misconduct, but it’s interesting nevertheless.  The sample space was small: the backgrounds of 59 doctors against whom serious charges of misconduct were made out were analysed.

Whether Briginshaw applies depends on the nature of the allegations, not the nature of the proceedings

In Polglaze v The Veterinary Practitioners Board of NSW [2010] NSWCA 4, the NSW Court of Appeal did not seem to be impressed about an appeal reaching them in relation to a finding of unsatisfactory professional  conduct in failing to warn the owner of a dog-patient that a second sedating injection was going to cost her. The fine had been $200. It was not in dispute that the vet had not given the warning. Nevertheless, the vet trotted out as an appeal point the well-worn chestnut of inadequate consideration of the Briginshaw principle that the more serious the allegations, the more persuasive must be the proof of them.  All of the appeal judges dismissed the point summarily.  They all said that given that the non-giving of the warning was not in dispute, there was no evidentiary controversy to which Briginshaw could have operation.  Anyway, Acting Justice of Appeal Handley said, ‘I would not readily accept that the Tribunal, which hears many disciplinary cases against members of the professions, would fail to direct itself in accordance with [the Briginshaw] test.’ Justice of Appeal Beazley agreed.  More interestingly, however, Justice of Appeal Basten said, by way of additional comments at [18]ff:

Continue reading “Whether Briginshaw applies depends on the nature of the allegations, not the nature of the proceedings”

Doctors, psychologists, sex and former patients

In Re a Psychologist [2009] TASSC 70, the Supreme Court of Tasmania quashed a decision of the Psychologists Registration Board of Tasmania to suspend a psychologist for 6 months for entering into a sexual relationship with a former patient fewer than 2 years after the end of the therapeutic relationship.  In fact he married her.  A couple of newspaper articles are here and here.

The Supreme Court quashed the decision because the Board switched from considering these allegations as a breach of a code of conduct to considering them as an allegation of professional misconduct at common law without adequately bringing the switch to the unrepresented psychologist’s attention.  Also because the reasons were inadequate.  Justice Blow engaged in a mini-review of recent cases about health professionals and sex with former patients: Continue reading “Doctors, psychologists, sex and former patients”

Sex offence doctor’s VCAT success stayed pending appeal

The Herald Sun has been active recently with front page excoriation of VCAT’s professional regulatory review jurisdiction for letting loose on the public again those they have described in unusually large letters as ‘sex fiends’ and ‘insane killers‘.  The two decisions are SL v Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria [2008] VCAT 2077, a decision of Judge Ross’s tribunal, and XJF v Director of Public Transport [2008] VCAT 2303, a decision of Deputy President Macnamara.  Given that the psychiatric evidence about the taxi driver was ’emphatically favourable’, the homicide occurred 18 years ago, and the taxi driver, whose son has leukemia and needs flexible work, has led an apparently blameless and psychiatrically acceptable life since, the Hun was a bit harsh. It surely cannot be right to call a man who committed a homicide two decades ago in the grip of a psychosis from which he has recovered an ‘insane killer’ in such a way as to refer to the present.

The taxi driver decision was reversed legislatively. The Medical Practitioners Board appealed the doctor’s success in VCAT.  Justices of Appeal Redlich and Weinberg granted an unusual stay of VCAT’s decision: Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria v SL [2008] VSCA 264. The appeal ultimately failed: [2009] VSCA 109.

Continue reading “Sex offence doctor’s VCAT success stayed pending appeal”

A new text on professional discipline

Lovegrove & Lord‘s Kim Lovegrove and barrister Sav Korica have just published a little book called Disciplinary Hearings and Advocacy (Hybrid, 2009). It sells for $39.95. Lovegrove is the Chairman of the Building Practitioners Board, and presides over disciplinary hearings. I suspect that frustration with other decision makers’ decision making (‘there may exist some, particularly those who are not legally trained, who may harbour a misconception about the purpose of disciplinary porceedings in that they may be of the view that their primary mandate is to punish’) and, more particularly, with the attitude adopted by advocates appearing before him (‘Members are often bamboozled about determining whether an advocate is contesting or mitigating’) has driven him to write the book. Continue reading “A new text on professional discipline”

Negligence claim against solicitor is a relevant factor in a limitation period extension application, part II

Update: See now Tomolo v Superior Meat & Poultry Supply (Aust) Pty Ltd [2021] VCC 1081.

Original post: I posted about this issue, as it arose in a 2007 decision of Justice Forrest, here. Since May 2003, certain Victorian actions for personal injury must be brought within 3 years after the injury was discovered to be attributable to the defendant’s negligence, or 12 years after the allegedly negligence conduct, whichever comes first.  Previously the limitation period was six years.  The period may be extended by the Court. In Delai v Western District Health Service [2009] VSC 151, Justice Beach explained why he granted the medical negligence claimant’s application.  The defendants argued that she had good prospects of suing her solicitor for negligently allowing the limitation period to go by, but that was not a sufficiently cogent consideration to get in the way of the success of the application. I reproduce the whole of the relevant discussion from the judgment:

Continue reading “Negligence claim against solicitor is a relevant factor in a limitation period extension application, part II”

Doctors behaving badly

When I found the Royal Australian Society of Professional Discipline (which will have a nice little commission going to whichever dominatrix is willing to pay the most for referrals of callers with the wrong idea), I will open it in the hinterland of the Gold Coast.  That’s a nicer place to be than the Coast itself, which is where a high proportion of Australia’s dodgy professionals are, and hence many of their victims.  I once went to the Coast for a conference. I was attracted to the idea of ripping open the seedy underbelly of the place.  I couldn’t find it.  Anyway, the latest chapter in the disciplining of Coastal professionals is reported here.  A 78 year old doctor prescribed ‘non-conventional’ cancer cures to a lot of people.  The authorities started investigating.  He had himself removed from the register of doctors.  That did not dissuade them.  A trial was held to discipline him.  He did not attend, and sent along as his advocate a friend and former cancer sufferer.  He was told not to apply for permission to practise again for 3 years.  Read on for another 4 reports of doctors behaving badly. Continue reading “Doctors behaving badly”

Ian Enright’s Professional Indemnity Insurance Law

I have a bad habit of buying books which cost several hundred dollars each and get overtaken by new editions after a couple of years. I am yet to experience the pain of an expensive text I have bought going into a new edition though, so nascent is my career as a barrister.  About this time last year, I had lunch with a judge of the Supreme Court who told me to my absolute astonishment that at the height of his career at the Bar, he spent $80,000 a year on books and reports. That news did me no good at all.

Texts are good, a basic fact of legal life which young lawyers are rapidly overlooking.  Without text writers, the law could not possibly survive in its current form.  They have an important function.  They ignore the bad decisions and explain what the long ones mean.

I picked up most of the library of John de Konig when he retired in June.  So I’m seriously well stocked for insurance texts — Sutton’s Insurance Law in Australia, Derrington’s Liability Insurance Law, Kelly & Ball’s Principles of Insurance Law, Mann’s Annotated Insurance Contracts Act, Tarr’s Australian Insurance Law, Clarke’s The Law of Insurance Contracts, Ivamy’s General Principles of Insurance Law, and even Mitchell’s The Law of Subrogation (feel free to come and borrow them).

Recently I picked up a serious text: Ian Enright and Digby Jess’s Anglo-Australian Professional Indemnity Insurance Law, Second Edition, December 2007.  It has a green faux leather hard cover with gold lettering.   Published by Thomson, it’s almost 1,000 pages long, and retails at $541.  It’s a monumental work, the only one devoted exclusively to its subject, and it naturally won the 2008 British Insurance Law Association prize for the most notable contribution to the literature of insurance law for the year.  It’s a good book because it achieves one of Enright’s aims, which was to start each topic at the start so as to make it accessible to the non-specialist reader.  It is well-organised, and carefully cross-referenced.  And it contains lots of answers, which is handy because that’s what I’m in the business of selling. Continue reading “Ian Enright’s Professional Indemnity Insurance Law”

More cases

I only just caught up with the fact that the Court of Appeal has overturned Justice Gillard’s decision in Kabourakis v Medical Board of Victoria [2005] VSC 493, the subject of an earlier post. See [2006] VSC 301.

VCAT’s Vice President Harbison, sitting in the Legal Practice List for the first time I am aware of, has contributed what appears to be a most interesting addition to the authorities about whether solicitors engage in trade and commerce for the purposes of the Fair Trading Act, 1999 (and, by analogy, of the Trade Practices Act, 1974), and whether solicitors may ever be sued under the Fair Trading Act, 1999. As to which, see this earlier post. The decision is Walsh v PJCC&A Pty [2008] VCAT 962 which I will certainly be posting a detailed analysis of.

Then a NSW decision has illustrated again the problem of sloppy regulators failing to consider whether what purports to be a complaint received by them is in fact a complaint as defined by the Act which regulates them (an allegation in both of the cases noted here). This time it was NSW’s Legal Services Commissioner, Steve Mark, getting bashed up by the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s Legal Services Division in Legal Services Commissioner v SG [2008] NSWADT 48:

’64 As stated, Mr Mark determined that a complaint had been made of deliberate charging of grossly excessive amounts of costs, when no such complaint had been made.

65 Without any further evidence or effort to obtain a valid expert opinion, the LSC instituted the complaint and brought this matter before the Tribunal on the equivocal opinion expressed by Mr McIntyre. Samantha Gulliver investigated the complaint on behalf of Mr Mark, however what, if anything, resulted from such investigation was not placed before the Tribunal. Continue reading “More cases”

Ownership of documents on a solicitor’s file

Update, 21 December 2017:  An English costs judge has made a decision about whether clients can demand, as of right, further copies of lawyers’ documents already received by the client (e.g. file copies of letters from lawyer to client).  He said no, not even if they want them to work out whether to seek taxation of costs.  The decision does not say, of course, that the Court would not order production in any case, but rather simply says that clients have no entitlement to them, even if they offer to pay for the copies.  The case is Green v SGI Legal LLP [2017] EWHC B27 (Costs).  A note about it is here.

Original post: This post is like a case book(let) rather than a text. It sets out the raw materials which bear upon the question of who as between solicitor and client owns (in the sense of is entitled to the original of) what documents typically found in a solicitor’s file. It is very long, and largely unsummarised: a resource to go back to rather than something to trawl through now. It is the product of reading Wentworth v De Montfort (1988) 15 NSWLR 348 (the subject of this separate companion post), the leading case on the question in NSW, and the cases which have considered it since. One day, hopefully, I will do a shorter post summarising the principles.

The state of the law is a scandal. For a start, it is ridiculously uncertain. To the extent it is certain, it is ridiculously difficult to interpret. These deficiencies give rise to abuse. An appropriate law would be that every client ought to be entitled to inspect the whole of a solicitor’s file, and ought to be able to have the whole of the original. Even smart institutional clients do not stipulate for this when negotiating retainers. Presently, the law (or an interpretation of it which is universally tolerated in Victoria) allows solicitors to take bits out of the file and give the client only what remains, so as to leave them with an incomplete whole, a thing without internal integrity, nothing but one part of the jigsaw of the past, an aid rather than a map for the reconstruction of past events. It is little known that the lien will trump an obligation in the solicitor to discover the file to the client (though the solicitor must discover the file to others). In fact, the solicitor is obliged to give discovery but not to allow inspection: Hammerstone Pty Ltd v Lewis [1994] 2 Qd R 267, a case I have caused to be put into play successfully twice, once in the Magistrates’ Court and once in VCAT’s Legal Practice List.

Solicitors’ Professional Conduct and Practice Rules, 2005 (‘7. Ownership of Clients’ Documents – Termination of Engagement’) provides Continue reading “Ownership of documents on a solicitor’s file”

Can lawyers sue and be sued under the Fair Trading Act, 1999?

It is well established in VCAT that when doctors and lawyers engage in professional activities in the course of their retainers, e.g. by giving advice, interviewing witnesses, and representing clients, they do not engage in trade or commerce: see for example Stagliano v Duke [2007] VCAT 1070, which I posted about here. Most Fair Trading Act, 1999 causes of action are available only in respect of conduct in trade or commerce. But is the workaround its consumer and trader dispute jurisdiction? The authorities are at odds with one another. Continue reading “Can lawyers sue and be sued under the Fair Trading Act, 1999?”

Ohio State Medical Association Frivolous Lawsuits Committee scores 3 victories against med neg plaintiff lawyers

The Ohio State Medical Association’s Frivolous Lawsuit Committee defended 3 frivolous medical negligence suits against members and funded counterclaims by the defendant doctors against the plaintiff’s solicitors for bringing hopeless claims. The doctors succeeded. Continue reading “Ohio State Medical Association Frivolous Lawsuits Committee scores 3 victories against med neg plaintiff lawyers”