Solicitor challenges Law Society over its investigation into controversial COVID-19 Facebook posts

Solicitor challenges Law Society over its investigation into controversial COVID-19 Facebook posts

25 October 2021 By Reporter

G&B Lawyers solicitor Nathan Buckley, who advised his supporters to challenge COVID-19 fines in court, has requested that the NSW Law Society provide all files relating to an application for disciplinary action. It follows an investigation into three of his Facebook posts that could be identified as unsatisfactory professional conduct.  

Earlier this year, the Law Society made a complaint to the state’s Legal Services Commissioner and was advised to conduct its own investigation into posts made by Mr Buckley that allegedly directed his followers to ignore COVID-19 restrictions. Its unsatisfactory professional conduct decision is currently under review.

Mr Buckley has requested that the Law Society provide all documents relevant to the application for disciplinary action in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). In response, the Law Society’s barrister Robert Pietriche argued that the summons was made in “quite broad terms” and that the society was non-compellable.

Mr Buckley’s barrister, Paul d’Assumpcao – who said he came onto the matter after Mr Buckley had filed the summons – said there are documents available to the Law Society “which apparently have not been assessed at any level to ascertain whether the decision-maker had regard to them”. This includes any legal advice that the Law Society received in coming to its misconduct finding and decision.

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“The significance here is that it is necessary to afford procedural fairness and, I would add respectfully, ensure the applicant is given every reasonable opportunity to advance his case,” Mr d’Assumpcao told NCAT on Monday, 25 October.

“This is a case where it is not simply looking at the particular post or conduct which gave rise to the concern on the part of the respondent and resulted in the disciplinary action being taken, but the broader context in which that investigation came about and the assessment process of the cogency in some of the allegations.

“In short, the applicant is entitled to test his accuser.”

Mr Pietriche claimed that Mr Buckley’s summons for the documents is premature and that if NCAT should accept that the Law Society’s files are inadequate, “it would be far too early for an order to be made because no order can be fashioned to properly capture the documents that can be produced”. This comes from the Law Society’s earlier claim that the summons was too broad and could have the consequence of including files that have “nothing to do with the complaint”.

“The problematic nature of this summons is that it seeks to capture a much broader cross-section of documents that goes well beyond the file that the Law Society obtains for the purpose of the decision that was made,” Mr Pietriche said.

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Based on three posts on Mr Buckley’s “G&B Lawyers” Facebook page and three responses to comments made on those posts, the Law Society found the alleged legal advice he provided could amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct, pending further review into this finding and any disciplinary action it took.

One such post encouraged Victorian residents to not wear their masks, collect their COVID-19 infringement fine and “elect to have it determined in court”. He advised that if “every single one” of the residents challenged the fines, the Victorian government “will not fight you in court” because it would be too expensive for them.

In September 2020, Mr Buckley shared a letter on his Facebook page from the Law Society that stated the posts had brought the profession into disrepute and breached his ethical duties, which may justify a finding that he is not a fit and proper person.

He wrote back to claim that the allegations were “baseless” and claimed that his followers would “give support as to why I am a fit and proper person”.

This he did last week when he requested donations totalling $1 million from his supporters to fight the Law Society. He claimed that all funds raised would go towards his proceedings, including to pay for barristers and for court filing fees.

“They want to silence me,” Mr Buckley argued in a GoFundMe description. “They don’t want to challenge the unlawful public health orders and directions. They don’t want me acting for individuals who have lost their livelihoods and careers.”

NCAT has reserved its decision and will publish reasons soon.

More to come.

Solicitor challenges Law Society over its investigation into controversial COVID-19 Facebook posts
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