I had to review the penalties for rudeness by lawyers recently, and what I found is that the usual penalty is a reprimand, even for very rude recidivists. That is not surprising, since a reprimand is a serious professional sanction, not to be equated with a slap over the wrist: Peeke v Medical Board of Victoria  VicSC 7 at p. 6 (Marks J); Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria v Swieca  VCAT 419 at  (a tribunal of three presided over by Deputy President Dwyer). This principle has been reiterated in A Practitioner v The Medical Board of Western Australia  WASC 198 at , in LSC v Moore  VCAT 742 at  (Member Butcher) and in LSC v Long  VCAT 1164 at  (Deputy President Macnamara) and in LSC v Sapountzis  VCAT 1124 (Member Butcher). Most recently, see VLSC v VH at  et seq per Vice President Hampel  VCAT 1498. Continue reading “The tariff for rudeness: a reprimand”
In Cahill v Victorian Legal Services Commissioner  VSC 177 (Keogh J);  VSCA 283 (Kyrou JA with whom the other Justices of Appeal agreed), the previous Victorian Legal Services Commissioner closed a disciplinary complaint against a solicitor once related proceedings were commenced. Despite then being functus officio, at the complainant’s request he ‘re-raised’ the complaint once the proceedings ended in what he regarded as inconclusive circumstances. He prosecuted the practitioner, who successfully sought judicial review on the basis that the Commissioner was not entitled to have a second go at the investigation. The Commissioner appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal. Apparently, that was the end of it.
This case reaffirms the principle that statutory authorities cannot revisit their final decisions because they change their mind or come to appreciate that they are wrong: Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs v Bhardwaj  HCA 11; (2002) 209 CLR 597, 603; Semunigus v Minister for Immigration  FCA 240; (2000) 96 FCR 533, 540 ; Kabourakis v Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria  VSCA 301 (20 December 2016)  (Nettle JA). Continue reading “Re-raising complaints-(not)”
In the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Vic), there are simple prohibitions, prohibitions breach of which are punishable by civil penalties, and criminal offences punishable by fines and jail. The civil penalty provisions are new to the LPUL compared with the previous legislation. What does it all mean? Continue reading “Bog-ordinary, disciplinary, civil penalty, criminal”
I was asked to talk to my colleagues at the Victorian Bar recently in relation to costs recovery in pro bono cases. It is now more certain that costs may be recovered from the other side by victorious litigants who engage their lawyers on the basis of a greater variety of pro bono arrangements. That is as a result of both recent developments in the judge-made law and changes to the Supreme and County Courts’ rules. Over the last few days, I published parts one and two of the paper I distributed. What follows is the third and final part, which considers different kinds of client-favourable costs agreements (some quite esoteric) and analyses their indemnity principle implications. It also provides some thoughts on how to draft costs agreements for work done otherwise than on a purely commercial basis, and how to ensure counsel get paid. Part one is here and part two here
Species of client-favourable costs agreements
Options available to lawyers who wish to do work at less than their usual rates for non-commercial reasons include:
(a) not making any arrangements as to fees at all;
(b) charging your usual rates and leaving it to your discretion whether you send out a bill, or whether you forgive some or all bills given in the event that certain outcomes obtain;promising to do the work for free;
(c) agreeing to do the work at a reduced rate;
(d) doing the work on a no win = reduced fee basis;
(e) doing the work no win = no fee;
(f) doing the work no costs order = no fee;
(g) doing the work on no actual recovery of costs / compensation / costs or compensation = no fee basis. Continue reading “Costs recovery in pro bono cases in Victorian state courts: Part 3”
VCAT has published reasons, the first I’ve come across, dealing with the allowance of costs under a costs agreement void for disclosure defaults: Sleath v RGL  VCAT 1998. Though they do not say so, it seems that the principal logic of the determination, under the same principles as the Costs Court is required to have regard to in taxations, was to keep the practitioners to their original written estimate notwithstanding subsequent oral updates. Scary stuff for lawyers if other decision makers reason similarly. Whether the Costs Court will reason similarly is an interesting question. It may be more likely that the Legal Services Commissioner will feel compelled to adopt similar reasoning in those costs disputes which it determines itself rather than referring off to VCAT. Good news for clients and third party payers if so. Continue reading “Holy moly! VCAT finds costs agreement void for ambiguous disclosure then orders solicitors to content themselves with original estimate”
Update, 10 August 2017: It once seemed to me having read Pizer’s Annotated VCAT Act (2015) at [8.60] that there was an argument to be made that the Evidence Act 2008 might have some operation to the extent that it is not over-ridden by s. 98 of the VCAT Act 1998, in that the Evidence Act 2008 empowers courts to do certain things which might not be described as part of the ‘rules of evidence’ referred to in s. 98. The Evidence Act 2008’s definition of ‘Victorian court’ (in whose proceedings the Act is said to apply) is inclusive of tribunals bound by the law of evidence, rather than excluding all tribunals which are not bound by the law of evidence, and VCAT has been regarded as a ‘court’ for various purposes. But the Court of Appeal has effectively decided (albeit without considering my thought) that the Evidence Act 2008 simply does not apply in VCAT: Karakatsanis v Racing Victoria Limited  VSCA 305 at  – .
Update, 9 August 2017: To gather the law together in one place:
(a) Pizer & Nekvapil, Pizer’s Annotated VCAT Act treats this question at [VCAT.98.160] citing Curcio v. Business Licensing Authority (2001) 18 VAR 155 at ; Pearce v. Button (1986) 8 FCR 408 at 422; Golem v TAC (2002) VAR 265 at [9(iv)]; Secretary to the Department of Infrastructure v Williamstown Bay and River Cruises Pty Ltd  VSC 191 at ; and Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria v Saddik  VCAT 366 at .
(b) A reader commended Justice Giles’s article ‘Dispensing with the Rules of Evidence’ at Vol 7 No 3 Australian Bar Review.
(c) Consider also Danne v The Coroner,  VSC 454, noted here.
Original post: Here is a useful collection of interstate and federal law about what statutes are actually to be taken to mean when they say that a tribunal is not bound by the laws of evidence (like VCAT), from Justice Refshauge’s reasons in Pires v DibbsBarker Canberra Pty Limited  ACTSC 283: Continue reading “Tribunals not bound by the laws of evidence”
A failure to give reasons is an error of law. Seriously inadequate reasons are corrosive of public confidence in the administration of justice and ought not to be tolerated by an appeal court, since justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. This is the first public policy informing the requirement for reasons by courts and court-like tribunals. As the Supreme Court has observed:
‘To have a strong body of evidence put aside without explanation is likely to give rise to a feeling of injustice in the mind of the most reasonable litigant.’
That is especially so in relation to factual determinations where a right of appeal lies only on a question of law. Even more especially so in a quasi-criminal prosecution with serious consequences for the practitioner in which a disciplinary prosecutor carries the burden of proof as described in Briginshaw v Briginshaw. Continue reading “Appeals from VCAT on the basis of inadequate reasons”
Update, 30 March 2020: VLSC v Flanagan  VCAT 363: repeated breaches of undertakings and failures to keep Law Aid up to date over many years.
Update, 2 July 2019: See Council of the Law Society of NSW v Thadsanamorthy  NSWCATOD 96: 3 counts of professional misconduct including dishonest misappropriation of trust monies; 6 counts of unsatisfactory professional conduct.
Update, 13 June 2019: See Council of the Law Society of NSW v Gurusamy  NSWCATOD 89 (eight counts of professional misconduct).
Original post: In this post, I noted the New South Wales Court of Appeal’s review of fines in solicitors’ disciplinary proceedings. I did my own little survey of Victorian cases recently in order to justify to the VCAT a joint submission as to penalty following a plea.
How naughty does a lawyer have to be to cop a fine of $5,000 in a disciplinary prosecution where that is the principal penalty (often paired with a reprimand, and costs of about $5,000)? This naughty:
Parliament is considering a bill to re-instate the disciplinary register, and to prohibit the Bureau de Spank from trumpeting its successes before the respondent practitioners’ appeal rights are exhausted: Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Amendment Bill 2016 (Vic.). Cl. 150E of the Bill proposes to prohibit the Legal Services Board from providing to the public information about disciplinary orders made by the VCAT’s Legal Practice List while appeals or appeal rights are live. The prohibition extends beyond publication on the proposed disciplinary register to disclosure of information to the public more generally.
There is a problem with the Bill though: it focuses its protection of the profession on prohibitions of publications by the Legal Services Board about final orders. The Board shares a website and premises with the office of the Legal Services Commissioner. The CEO of the Board is in fact the Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, who is also the applicant in all disciplinary prosecutions of lawyers in Victoria. Yet the CEO, qua Commissioner, is content for his staff to write about cases he is prosecuting, before any orders have been made and while the tribunal is considering what orders to make. On the homepage of the Board + Commissioner’s website, no less.
If parliament is concerned to ensure that the reputation of practitioners is not to be ruined by accounts of current proceedings by one of the parties to them where the aspect of things might change dramatically upon appeal, or even by bad decisions in such proceedings which are to be appealed, it ought to consider adding the Commissioner to the class of person covered by the prohibition, and to make clear that neither the Board nor the Commissioner ought publish details of disciplinary prosecutions while they are before the disciplinary tribunal.
It is not uncommon for appellate courts — the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal — to reverse decisions unfavourable to lawyers in disciplinary prosecutions of lawyers in VCAT’s Legal Practice List, or to substitute decisions more favourable to lawyers than those of VCAT or the legal regulators. So the no publicity pending appeal proposition actually has some important work to do in the real world. Consider, to name a few, Legal Services Commissioner v McDonald  VSC 237, PLP v McGarvie  VSCA 253, Stirling v Legal Services Commissioner  VSCA 374, Burgess v Legal Services Commissioner  VSCA 142, Brereton v Legal Services Commissioner  VSC 378, Byrne v Marles  VSCA 78, Quinn v Law Institute of Victoria  VSCA 122, Byrne v Law Institute of Victoria  VSC 509. Consider also non-lawyers: Omant v Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia  VSC 512, and Towie v Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria  VSCA 157 where the Court found that VCAT’s standard orders in disciplinary hearings were contrary to the privilege against penalties. It will be observed that some of those decisions were made by very experienced members of VCAT’s Legal Practice List, and several by its Vice-President, a judge.
Updated post: The decision is under appeal: Champion v Rohrt  VSCA 64.
Original post: VCAT has taken a most expansive approach to its jurisdiction to rule on civil disputes involving lawyers in Rohrt v Champion  VCAT 1875. The liquidator of a company served a notice on a solicitor under the Corporations Law, 2001 to deliver up documents in his possession relating to the affairs of the company in liquidation. The solicitor did not respond, so the liquidator lodged a complaint with the Legal Services Commissioner. Presumably, this could have been characterised as a disciplinary complaint, but whether it was so characterised or not, it was certainly characterised as a civil complaint. To the extent that it was characterised as a disciplinary complaint, only the Commissioner would have standing to launch a prosecution in VCAT, so we can disregard that possibility as a possible source of jurisdiction, and VCAT expressly did so (at ).
What is interesting is that the Commissioner, and subsequently VCAT (since VCAT’s jurisdiction was squarely challenged by the solicitor) must have found that the complaint seeking delivery up of the papers demanded by the notice was a dispute between a person and the solicitor arising out of, or in relation to, the provision of legal services by the solicitor to that person. See . Since the Applicant was the liquidator, and not the company in liquidation which was the solicitor’s former client, presumably VCAT must have found that the solicitor provided legal services to the liquidator, or that the person with the dispute arising out of the provision of legal services need not be the person to whom the services were provided. In fact, VCAT found that the solicitor’s argument that VCAT did not have the jurisdiction which the liquidator was seeking to invoke was so untenable as to warrant an order that he pay indemnity costs notwithstanding the presumption in such proceedings that there be no order as to costs at all. Continue reading “VCAT gives expansive interpretation to civil complaint dispute resolution jurisdiction”
In my last post, I briefly surveyed VCAT’s approach to the Barbaro principle in disciplinary proceedings against solicitors. I just came across a presentation given by the Supreme Court’s Justice Garde, VCAT’s President which touches on this issue. The presentation is titled ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution – Can it work for Administrative Law?’. It was given on 26 February 2014, and is linked to here. The relevant part is: Continue reading “VCAT’s President’s extra-judicial views on Barbaro in VCAT disciplinary hearings”
A solicitor somewhere in Melbourne’s suburbs failed in his defence of sexual harrassment claims and was ordered by VCAT’s President, Justice Garde, to pay his victim compensation of $100,000: GLS v PLP  VCAT 221. The solicitor described the complainant as a fantasist when she said that he asked her for sex in a most unwelcome manner, except to the extent that her allegations were corroborated by a video he himself had surreptitiously made during which he asked her most vulgarly for sex 78 times in about an hour and which he tendered to prove that she was coming onto him. Weird. But that was all just to grab your attention.
Now for the saucy bit: the President rehearsed the authorities on the Briginshaw application of the civil standard of proof, reproduced in this post. But it is also interesting in that the President expressly invoked the VCAT Act power to apply rules of evidence, and did so because serious allegations were being made. In a case about a solicitor, and for the protection of the solicitor. I don’t think I have seen that power expressly invoked in a VCAT decision before, except occasionally to reject the tender of particularly unreliable hearsay. Here’s hoping that it might be the start of the development of VCAT’s own de facto law of evidence, because a forum without any law of evidence is a strange beast, and a forum which has an unspoken de facto evidence regime undermines equality of access to it, creating an advantage in favour of those in the know, who will tend to be experienced users and lawyers. Continue reading “Suburban solicitor tenders video of himself asking employee for sex 78 times in his own sexual harrassment case”
Some things you learn the hard way. One of my earliest appearances, as a young solicitor at a packed directions hearing before the notorious Master Patkin of the County Court, involved a discussion of the Court’s jurisdiction which I had not seen coming. I suggested that the other side had consented to jurisdiction. It earnt me a Socratic lecture, in public. Here is what the law says, as recounted recently in Neill v Legal Profession Complaints Committee  WASCA 48 at :
‘In Pantorno v The Queen (1989) 166 CLR 466, the High Court made it clear that parties who agree a proposition of law cannot bind a court. Parties cannot by consent confer jurisdiction on a tribunal if none exists: see R v Moore (1976) 11 ALR 449 and Australian Education Union v Lawler (2008) 169 FCR 327 at .’
Of course it is not quite as simple as that. Never is. Creatures of statute may provide by the statute for the parties to agree on the creature having jurisdiction which it otherwise does not have. The Magistrates’ Court Act, 1989, s. 100(1)(c), for example, provides for the parties to agree on the Court hearing a case where more than its jurisdictional limit of $100,000 is at stake. Some imperfect knowledge of that proposition was what led me astray.
First of all, happy new year!
The take-home point of this post is that if you lodge a civil complaint (e.g. a pecuniary loss dispute or a costs dispute) with the Legal Services Commissioner, you limit the amount of compensation you can get in VCAT to $25,000 because of s. 4.3.2(1)(c) of the Legal Profession Act, 2004. That prevents the commencement of proceedings in relation to the subject matter of the complaint until the complaint has been finally determined, or dismissed, by which time it will often be res judicata, at least in those cases where the final determination is by VCAT or the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal (subject, perhaps, to (i) the operation of s. 4.2.14(2), which is what the Court of Appeal calls the ‘two bites of the cherry’ provision, and (ii) the possibility of adding a Fair Trading Act, 1999 cause of action to a proceeding originally instituted in VCAT under the Legal Profession Act, 2004, discussed below). In this touchy feely win win alternative dispute resolution Civil Procedure Act, 2010 world, it is apparently anomalous that those who choose to travel to VCAT’s Legal Practice List via the obvious alternative dispute resolution channel (i.e. via a civil complaint to the Commissioner’s dispute resolution jurisdiction) are penalised so severely in comparison with those who proceed immediately to litigation in that List by invoking the parallel jurisdiction of the Fair Trading Act, 1999. Continue reading “Lodging a civil complaint with the Legal Services Commissioner limits you to compensation of $25,000 per complaint”
Justice Sifris banned palm tree justice in VCAT in a mercifully concise judgment: Christ Church Grammar School v Bosnich  VSC 476, overturning President Morris’s decision in Law v MCI Technologies Pty Ltd  VCAT 415, which was against the tide of NSW authorities. Peter Riordan SC led Will Alstergren for the School. As the keener readers of this blog would be well aware, VCAT has a general jurisdiction, unlimited as to amount, in relation to disputes between the suppliers and recipients of goods and services, broadly defined. In a sub-set of such disputes (consumer disputes and trader-trader disputes), it is empowered by s. 109(1) of the Fair Trading Act, 1999 to ‘make any order it considers fair’. The definition of ‘consumer disputes’ and ‘trader-trader disputes’ is at the end of the post. Oversimplified, however, they are disputes in relation to the supply of goods or services (a) for personal, household or domestic consumption, or (b) for a price of $10,000 or less. Continue reading “Palm tree justice banned at VCAT”
Virgtel Ltd v Gadens Lawyers  VCAT 1584 might be VCAT’s Legal Practice List’s highest value case. Not all that long ago in the scheme of things, I remember learning that VCAT had certain jurisdictions which were unlimited, and realising that — shock! — it might hear cases which the Magistrates’ Court could not hear. Well, this case is an application pursuant to s. 103 of the Legal Practice Act, 1996 to set aside a costs agreement pursuant to which bills totalling $2.3 million were charged. That explains why two QCs faced off on a pre-trial application.
The respondents applied for summary dismissal under s. 75 of the VCAT Act, but advised the day before the hearing that they would withdraw it. The applicants sought costs of the application. Senior Member Howell granted that application, on a solicitor-client basis. That was because the application was misconceived. Its thesis was that there was no point making an order setting aside the costs agreement because all but one of the bills was out of time for taxation anyway. But it did not follow from the unavailability of taxation that the fees billed by the respondents could not be adjusted. As Senior Member Howell said: Continue reading “Is this the Legal Practice List’s biggest case?”
In Osland v Secretary to the Department of Justice  HCA 24, Chief Justice French, and Justices Gummow and Bell said:
‘The jurisdiction and powers of the Court of Appeal
17. It is necessary to refer to the nature of the jurisdiction and powers of the Court of Appeal in an appeal from an order of the Tribunal. That jurisdiction and those powers continued to define the functions of the Court on the remitter of the appeal for further hearing. The relevant jurisdiction and powers are set out in s 148 of the VCAT Act, which provides, inter alia: Continue reading “High Court says something about VCAT”
In Gluyas v Google Inc  VCAT 540, an Australian blogger sued Google in VCAT. Google Inc is an American company. VCAT struck out the suit on another basis, but indicated that there are no provisions for the service of VCAT applications on persons outside Australia, unlike in the Supreme Court, so that VCAT probably had no jurisdiction unless Google Inc consented to it exercising jurisdiction, which Google did not do. Some tribunal proceedings with a link to Victoria may be served in other states and territories under Part 4 of the Service and Execution of Process Act, 1992.
In Gluyas v Google Inc  VCAT 540, an Australian blogger took Google to VCAT to complain about the content of a blog published in America on Google’s blogger platform. The blog criticised people with the blogger’s disability. The blogger sought relief under the Equal Opportunity Act, 1995 (Vic.), claiming that Google had authorised or assisted the American blogger to discriminate against the class of persons suffering his disability, and against him personally. The Act does prohibit such assistance and authorisation, but Google applied to strike out the suit on the basis that the alleged conduct occurred in America, and the Equal Opportunity Act did not regulate the conduct of Americans in America, or in legal language, the Act did not have extra-territorial operation. Deputy President McNamara agreed. There is nothing startling about this application of well-worn principles, but this blog sometimes just restates things which people like me need reminding of from time to time. Continue reading “Extra-territoriality of Victorian statutes”
They’ve changed the law in relation to legal professional privilege on us. The common law has been abolished, at least in relation to compulsory processes (discovery, subpoenas, interrogatories, notice to produce) in fora where the new Evidence Act, 2008 applies, and the adduction of evidence in those fora. Two legal professional privilege regimes are now going to apply in relation to any particular communication. If the Tax Man, or the Legal Services Commissioner, compels you to produce documents, the common law will apply. If you produce them, the common law will determine whether the production amounts to a waiver. If the investigation leads to court (but not VCAT) proceedings proceedings, to which the new law will apply, you might be compelled by subpoena to produce documents you successfully resisted producing in the investigation pursuant to the common law. Furthermore, in those proceedings, the Court will decide for itself, under the new law, whether the production to the Commissioner in the investigation amounted to a waiver or not.
The change is not as great as it might have been had the uniform evidence law been introduced into our land prior to the last round of amendments. Now the law relating to implied waiver of privilege is stated in more or less the same terms as the common law, as expounded by Mann v Carnell, and the new law applies to post-commencement but pre-trial stages of court cases as well as at trial. But there are differences too: Justice Byrne’s decision referred to below confirms it.
I blogged about the transitional provisions for the new legislation here. It occurred to me that since the Hikers are so fond of emphasising what a basic common law right the right to assert legal professional privilege over confidential communications is, there was a real question about whether the changes ought to operate retrospectively, in the sense that communications which occurred before this year (i.e. before the commencement of the new Act) which were already entitled to legal professional privilege at common law might be adjudged not to be privileged for the purposes of proceedings governed by the new Act. There is a presumption in statutory interpretation against the retrospective taking away of accrued rights. But there is no such presumption in relation to changing procedures for the vindication of rights.
Someone has actually already run this esoteric argument. In Main-Road Property Group Pty Ltd v Pelligra & Sons Pty Ltd (No 4)  VSC 27, Justice Byrne, who knows a thing or two about the law of evidence, gave the argument short shrift, though his views are purely dicta: Continue reading “Changes to legal professional privilege operate retrospectively”