Lawyers Standards Committees
A Lawyers Standards Committee is made up of lawyers and non-lawyers (also known as “lay members”). The lawyers are senior practitioners, and the lay members are people of good standing in the community.
A Standards Committee considering a complaint must have at least two lawyers and one lay member, but may have up to seven lawyers and two lay members.
There are 24 Standards Committees around New Zealand, with at least one in each of the regions covered by a New Zealand Law Society branch, and several in the larger population centres.
Part Seven of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 sets out the requirements for complaints and discipline, and sections 126 to 189 govern the functions, duties and powers of Standards Committees.
Inquiries by Standards Committees
- If a Standards Committee decides to inquire into a complaint, the complainant and the lawyer concerned will be told what will happen next.
- The complainant will be given the opportunity to comment on any explanation the lawyer provides.
- A Legal Standards Officer (LSO) will usually carry out the initial inquiry or investigation. LSOs are lawyers or administrative officers who help the Standards Committees. They deal with complaints as fairly, efficiently and effectively as possible. Their investigation is impartial and they do not give legal advice to either the complainant or the lawyer. The LSO may contact the complainant and the lawyer involved to clarify issues and evidence.
- If a complaint concerns a bill, the Standards Committee may refer it to a Costs Assessor. The Assessor may contact the complainant and the lawyer before making a report to the Standards Committee.
- When the investigation is complete, the Standards Committee considers all the evidence and decides what should happen. Usually a complainant does not have to give evidence in person, but is kept informed of progess along the way.
Resolution by negotiation, conciliation or mediation
If the Standards Committee believes the complaint could be resolved without a lengthy investigation and hearing, it may ask both parties to try to resolve the complaint, or any part of it, by negotiation, conciliation or mediation.
If this leads to an agreed settlement, the Standards Committee may record the terms of the settlement and, with the consent of the parties, declare that to be all or part of its final determination.
If appropriate, the LSO will send the complaint to an experienced mediator who will contact both parties. The complainant and the lawyer may choose their own mediator, but will then have to pay for their services.
Decision by Standards Committee to take no action
A Standards Committee may decide to take no action on a complaint. This could be because:
- The complaint has been made so long after the issues arose that it is not practical or desirable to investigate it.
- The complaint is trivial, frivolous or vexatious, or is not made in good faith.
- The person affected does not want the complaint to proceed.
- The person who makes the complaint does not have sufficient personal interest in it.
- Some other adequate remedy or right of appeal is available.
A Standards Committee may also decide to take no further action if the investigation indicates that further action is unnecessary or inappropriate.
Where a decision to take no action is made, the complainant will be told the reasons and advised of their rights to have that decision reviewed.
Information about Standards Committee decisions
Decisions made by a Standards Committee in relation to a complaint are governed by strict rules as to publication.
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 allows a Standards Committee to direct such publication of its decisions as it considers necessary or desirable in the public interest (section 142(2)).
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Complaints Service and Standards Committees) Regulations 2008 state that decisions of Standards Committees must remain confidential unless the Committee makes a direction under s142(2) or directs publication of the identity of a person who is the subject of a censure order. A committee may order that the facts of a complaint be published and on occasion the name or the identity of the lawyer in also included.
If a Standards Committee does not make an order for publication, it is not lawful to provide any information relating to a particular complaint.
Summaries of Standards Committee decisions where the Committee has directed publication are available here.
Last updated on the 3rd June 2015