Aspiring lawyer with child exploitation convictions refused admission

25 July 2022 By Jerome Doraisamy

The Queensland Court of Appeal has refused an application for admission to a would-be solicitor who was convicted five years ago of possessing child exploitation material, after the state’s Legal Practitioners Admissions Board deemed the applicant not to be, at this point in time, a fit and proper person for admission.

In early 2017, the applicant pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, two counts of possessing child exploitation material, a further count of possessing child exploitation material, one count of using a carriage service to access child pornography material, and four counts of “observations or recordings in breach of privacy”, in which the applicant recorded his housemate in the shower on four separate occasions.

When his home was searched in September 2015, the Queensland Court of Appeal noted, the applicant was said to have cooperated with police by making admissions of possession and directed them to numerous electronic devices, on which 4,753 accessible images and 333 accessible videos pertaining to child exploitation material were located.

Moreover, he cooperated further by pleading guilty, with the sentencing judge accepting that he was “remorseful”.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The applicant was between 20 and 24 when the offences were committed, and he was sentenced at the age of 25. He had no criminal history prior to the child pornography offences.

Now 30, the applicant said in an affidavit filed in February of this year that the convictions followed “years of suffering from a pornography addiction as an unhealthy way to relieve stress”, and that that addiction “led me to seeking out new and more disturbing pornography to satisfy my growing intolerance for normal pornography and a near constant need to masturbate and to watch pornography”.

The offences — together with “some speeding infringements, a tax debt that arose from insufficient PAYG deductions and a small Centrelink debt” — were also disclosed in the applicant’s submission for admission as a solicitor.

The applicant’s psychologist wrote, in a report to the Legal Practitioners Admissions Board, that the applicant “showed improved self-awareness and self-regulation skills, such that he was no longer reliant on pornography to cope with stress or manage his emotional responses”, and that at the time of cessation of treatment, he “had no ongoing concerns about [the applicant’s] mental stability or risk of reoffending”.

In a further report, written in May after another two appointments with the applicant, the psychologist wrote that “while I believe that he has good insight into his mental health issues and needs, I would also consider it useful that any professional supervisor/mentor/sponsor be aware of his vulnerability to anxiety, in order to prompt him to seek external support as soon as such a need arises”.

Lawyers Weekly Discover

The board’s letter of recommendation, in determining that the applicant was not a fit and proper person for admission in accordance with s39 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld), noted that the applicant’s offending was “reprehensible in nature, occurred over a lengthy period of time and included significant breaches of trust (his housemate’s privacy) on multiple occasions”.

The board did say it may be satisfied that the applicant could be suitable for admission at a future time, if the applicant were to obtain employment in the legal profession under the supervision of a more senior practitioner for a year and provide the board with an affidavit from a senior practitioner, who supervised him for a year, deposing to the applicant’s good character, fitness and propriety for admission.

The applicant opted to “press his application for admission”, and a hearing was held by QCA on 11 July 2022.

In their judgment, Chief Justice Helen Bowskill, Justice David Boddice and Justice Declan Kelly determined that the applicant’s offending was “not fleeting” and that he did not “stumble” upon the offending images.

“His conduct persisted over a three-and-a-half-year period, from age 20 to 24, during which he not only actively accessed the images and videos, but stored them on various devices. The number of images was substantial, and said to involve many in the most serious of categories,” the justices espoused.

Moreover, they went on, the act of secretly filming his housemate while she was in the shower “calls into question the applicant’s fitness and propriety for admission to the legal profession, a hallmark of which is the ability of the judiciary and the public to have trust and confidence in its members”.

The applicant has, to date, “not tested his ability to deal with stress” by way of working in the legal profession, the justices mused, saying the undertaking of practical experience for the purposes of his PLT was “of only short duration and does not address this shortcoming”.

The Court of Appeal did acknowledge the applicant’s “positive progression” in the years following his arrest and convictions, but also took into account the psychologist’s finding that they were “unsure how [the applicant] will respond to the rigours of legal practice” (despite his fitness for practice “being greater than when I last saw him”), as well as the psychologist’s aforementioned suggestion that supervision would be useful.

The applicant’s offending conduct is not such, the Court of Appeal deduced, that it should be concluded he will never be a fit and proper person to be admitted to the legal profession.

“However, it is such, having regard to the nature of the offences committed, the time over which and since the offences were committed, the applicant’s age over the period when the offences were committed and the explanation for the commission of the offences, as to lead us to conclude that, at this time, the applicant is not a fit and proper person to be admitted to the legal profession,” Bowskill CJ, Boddice and Kelly JJ wrote.

The justices refused the application for admission, reflecting that the board’s originating recommendation was “an entirely sensible and reasonable one”.

The case citation is In the matter of an application by GBK for admission to the Legal Profession [2022] QCA 129.

Aspiring lawyer with child exploitation convictions refused admission
Intro image
lawyersweekly logo