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Rudeness to prosecutor and court staff

05 May 2017

A criminal defence lawyer has been censured and fined by a lawyers standards committee for two separate incidents of unprofessional behaviour.

In one incident, the lawyer, C, interrupted a police prosecutor while he was attending to another matter. The prosecutor said he would assist C once he had dealt with that matter. C began to go through the police files on the prosecution bench. The prosecutor challenged C who began to argue loudly.

The police said C threw the file across the desk in front of the prosecutor and said he was going to complain about the prosecutor. As he walked away, C swore at the prosecutor while the Registrar’s Court was in session.

C told the standards committee that he was duty solicitor that day and wanted to obtain information from police about initial discovery. C did not know what the charges were or what stage proceedings had reached. He claimed the prosecutor and the Registrar ignored him, so he picked up the relevant police file. C denied going through the file but intended reading the cover sheet to see what the charges were and what the defendant had pleaded.

C said there was a breach of protocol by which duty solicitors obtain preliminary discovery and that the prosecutor was frustrating his ability as duty solicitor to complete the job allocated to him.

He acknowledged that he became frustrated when ignored, but denied throwing the file across the desk. C admitted that he did say he would make a complaint about the prosecutor. He said he did not recall swearing at the prosecutor, but provided an apology if that was the case.

C “failed to promote and maintain proper standards of professionalism in his dealings with the prosecutor and he failed to treat him with respect,” the committee said.

Threatened to sue

In the other incident, C attended the District Court to assist a client in a case review hearing. C thought the matter would be called in the 10am list, but on arrival he became aware his client had already been called in the Registrar’s List. As she had failed to appear and was not represented, a warrant for her arrest was issued.

C sought to remedy the situation and approached court staff. The interaction led to a Courts Manager laying a complaint.

The complaint alleged C was agitated and abused court staff in a raised voice. He also told the Court Manager who had come to assist her staff that if she issued the warrant he would sue her, and swore at her.

C accepted he was extremely angry at what had happened and admitted that as he walked away he did tell the Court Manager he would sue the Court for false imprisonment if the warrant was issued. He said he could not recall swearing, but stated it was possible because he was extremely angry.

C also said that in the particular District Court, many decisions were being made administratively, which were not within the Registrar’s jurisdiction and which resulted in injustice to clients.

The committee said C’s conduct in being agitated, abusing staff in a raised voice, swearing and threatening to sue the Court breached rules 10 and 13.2.1 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008.

As well as the two censures and two $2,500 fines, the committee ordered C to pay $950 costs in respect of the hearing of each complaint.

The committee said that in a Registrar’s Court it was incumbent on everyone to minimise the effect of the competing priorities and tensions by behaving in a “responsible and professional manner”.

Last updated on the 5th May 2017