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A & I certification not just a ‘rubber stamp’

31 March 2017

A lawyer has been found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct by a lawyer’s standards committee of falsely signing documents as a witness.

Mrs E signed five documents, including an Authority and Instruction form, and all five contained statements that they were signed in the presence of the lawyer, D.

The committee said D acknowledged that she had signed the documents as a witness to the signatures of Mrs E, which was false. Mrs E was in Hong Kong when she signed the documents.

D also certified on the A & I form that she had sighted Mrs E’s original forms of identity; that the photo, name and signature matched Mrs E’s names and identification provided; and that Mrs E appeared to be of sound mind. All those assertions were false.

The committee said while D did not intend to be dishonest by falsely certifying the documents, she was “procedurally careless” in doing so.

“The committee considers that the conduct is serious,” its decision said.

“If a lawyer’s certification cannot be relied on to be true and correct, it has the potential to undermine the integrity of the entire registration system.”

“It is important for consumers of legal services to be assured that a certification by a lawyer can be relied on absolutely,” the committee said.

“It is never acceptable to certify documents when the facts so being certified are not true and correct. It is of crucial importance that lawyers be aware that certification of documents and A & I forms is not just a procedural ‘rubber stamping’ exercise, but certification of truth and accuracy to which proper consideration must be given.”

The committee said it considered an adverse finding to be sufficient penalty, and ordered D to pay $500 costs.

Written notice of the determination was provided to the Registrar-General of Land at the committee’s direction.

Supervisor’s conduct also unsatisfactory

The committee also held an “own motion” investigation into D’s supervising partner, F, in relation to her supervision and management of D.

In a separate decision, it found unsatisfactory conduct by F.

The committee said it acknowledged that F went to great lengths to ensure that Mrs E’s signatures were properly witnessed in Hong Kong. F also arranged for the witness of Mrs E’s signatures to prepare a separate letter which was sent to F’s firm, confirming that the overseas witness had witnessed Mrs E sign the documents.

When the documents were returned to New Zealand, F asked D to complete the execution of the documents to the other parties. D then mistakenly believed that she could also witness Mrs E’s signatures on the documents.

F did not provide D with any specific direction or guidance in relation to the witnessing of the documents.

“Given the complexities in question, the committee considers that she should have reviewed the documents following completion of the execution by [D],” the committee said.

“The committee considers that [F] failed to competently supervise and manage [D], which resulted in the false witnessing and/or false certifying of the documents.”

Taking into account F’s move to incorporate proper witnessing and certifying documents into her training of junior staff, and that F’s conduct was at the lower end of the scale of unsatisfactory conduct, the committee considered an adverse finding against F was sufficient penalty. It also ordered F to pay $500 costs.

Last updated on the 31st March 2017