The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has ordered that criminal lawyer Patrick Dwyer be reprimanded and fined $40,000 after charges were brought against him by the Legal Services Commissioner (LSC).
The lawyer, who has practiced for 34 years in Northcote, practices exclusively acting for defendants in criminal matters. About 80 per cent of his work is funded by Legal Aid, and the Tribunal reported the practice is “very busy”.
The LSC brought four charges of professional misconduct and one charge of unsatisfactory professional conduct against Dwyer for non-compliance with trust account obligations, a failure to provide a costs disclosure statement, the creation of false documents and subsequently misleading the LSC.
Counsel for the LSC submitted to VCAT that the lawyer’s dishonest conduct was “clearly inconsistent” with a lawyer’s duty to act with honesty and candour and he should not be entitled to practice.
Senior Member Jonathan Smithers said: “It is obviously vital that the regulator of the profession be able to rely on the word of practitioners required to provide information to it when carrying out its investigations. The duty of honesty and candour to the LSC is similar to the duty owed to the courts”.
However, in making the orders, VCAT said that Dwyer did not receive any benefit from his actions and nor was the client or anyone else disadvantaged as a result. VCAT also considered the numerous character references provided attesting to the lawyer’s character and his ongoing contribution to the community.
Acting Legal Services Commissioner, Russell Daily, said that this case highlights the importance of lawyers providing honest responses to the LSC when information is requested.
Dwyer was also ordered to pay the LSC’s costs of $8,102.35. Although the charges were admitted in this case, he has 28 days to appeal the sanction.