New Zealand Law Society - Fined for accidentally broadcasting client discussion

Fined for accidentally broadcasting client discussion

Published on 1 November 2019

[All names used in this article are fictitious]

A lawyer who accidentally broadcast a discussion with his client has been fined $1,500.

The Lawyers Complaints Service received a phone call from a member of the public who advised that he had been watching a live video stream by the lawyer, Shropshire, and which had been accessible to a global audience.

During the stream, a person the viewer assumed to be Shropshire’s secretary knocked on his door and started talking about a case. Shropshire is reported to have “shooed her away”.

In addition, Shropshire was then seen interviewing an individual, who appeared to be “unaware the conversation was going to an international audience”.

Following the phone call to the Lawyers Complaints Service, a lawyers standards committee conducted an own motion investigation.

The committee determined that Shropshire’s conduct in broadcasting the discussions held in his office with a client amounted to unsatisfactory conduct.

In making a finding of unsatisfactory conduct the committee remarked that “the duty of confidence underpins the entire lawyer client relationship”.

“For a lawyer to advise and represent a client effectively, that lawyer needs to be confident that the client has disclosed all relevant facts. Clients, therefore, need to be confident that information disclosed to their lawyer will remain secret.”

Shropshire accepted that he had disclosed confidential information by broadcasting his meeting with a client to unknown third parties. Shropshire also accepted that this was unsatisfactory conduct.

“By way of mitigation, [Shropshire] states the broadcast was accidental because he believed he had stopped the broadcast by closing his web browser,” the committee said.

“[Shropshire] says instead of closing the webpage by pressing the ‘x’ icon, he minimised the window by pressing an adjacent icon.

“The committee accepts that the disclosure was accidental. The committee also accepts the discussions with the client were not scheduled and that [Shropshire] was surprised by the arrival of his client in his office.

“Had the committee found otherwise, it may have considered that [Shropshire]’s actions amounted to a wilful or reckless contravention of [rule] 8 and brought charges against [Shropshire] for misconduct.”

Rule 8 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 states: “A lawyer has a duty to protect and to hold in strict confidence all information concerning a client, the retainer, and the client’s business and affairs acquired in the course of the professional relationship.”

The level of fine took into account the maximum fine of $15,000, the extent of the breach of confidentiality, the importance of client confidence to the administration of justice, the fact that the conduct was accidental, Shropshire’s length of practice and his disciplinary record, the committee said.

As well as the $1,500 fine, Shropshire was ordered to pay costs.

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