Queensland Law Society fails to permanently revoke solicitor’s practising certificate over administrative errors

Queensland Law Society fails to permanently revoke solicitor’s practising certificate over administrative errors

26 October 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Brisbane

Queensland Law Society’s argument that a former legal practice director should not be granted a new practising certificate has fallen short with the state’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal finding that its decision “goes beyond what is needed” to discipline the solicitor for failing to respond to notices and requests for information.

The solicitor, who was wrapping up his work as a legal practice director around the time of the misconduct, was granted an employee practising certificate after appearing before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) over the fate of his professional legal career and to respond to his administrative errors.

The Queensland Law Society (QLS) sought to argue that the solicitor – whose identity has been protected given the QCAT decision – should not have been given a practising certificate due to a persistent failure to engage with them properly, which “bespeaks a lack of insight, candour and respect for his professional obligations”.

QLS submitted that the public is entitled to expect that only those practitioners who comply with their personal and legal obligations – including dealing with the Law Society body in a “prompt and transparent matter” – are permitted to practice.

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The first issue leading to QLS’s submissions took place in December 2019, when the solicitor promised to advise the society about his practice’s new legal director. However, despite follow-up requests from QLS, this information and evidence that the legal director had officially changed was not provided until February 2020.

“Even allowing for the conventional vacation period surrounding the Christmas/New Year’s break, this was a lengthy period to respond to a straightforward request,” QCAT president Justice Martin Daubney conceded in the recent judgment.

The second issue concerned the solicitor’s ongoing failure to comply with a request from QLS that he provide certain tax and superannuation information. When information was finally provided to QLS, the solicitor sought to “shift responsibility for providing further information to his accountant” and away from his own duties.

QCAT heard that beyond the “general assertions” of the difficulties the solicitor was having in his personal and professional lives, he did not “directly address this issue or provide an explanation for a failure to provide the information in a timely fashion”.

QCAT noted that there was no suggestion made that the solicitor’s character is “infected by a lack of honesty or integrity”. There was no criticism of the standards of professional services he provided to clients, the propriety of his attention to clients’ interests or his capacity to engage with other members of the legal profession.

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“I am of the view that a decision that the applicant is not a fit and proper person to practice in any capacity is too hard and goes beyond what is needed for the protection of the public,” Justice Daubney ruled. “This is in no way to excuse the applicant’s conduct in failing to meet the serious obligations to engage properly and in a timely fashion with the regulator.

“He has frankly and appropriately acknowledged his shortcomings in that regard. But in the particular and limited circumstances of this case, the undertaking he has offered to the tribunal will serve practically to address his administrative shortcomings and, more importantly, safeguard the issue of protection for the public.”

QCAT set aside the QLS decision to refuse the solicitor’s practising certificate and instead replaced it with the “correct and preferable decision” that the solicitor be granted an employee level practising certificate with conditions.

Queensland Law Society fails to permanently revoke solicitor’s practising certificate over administrative errors
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