New Zealand Law Society - Allegations of intimate relationship unfounded

Allegations of intimate relationship unfounded

Published on 12 May 2020

[All names used are fictitious] 

A lawyers standards committee has taken no further action in relation to what it considered to be an unfounded allegation that a lawyer had entered into an intimate personal relationship with her client.

The lawyer, Humberside, represented Mr M in proceedings under the Care of Children Act 2004. The Family Court made an interim parenting order and a temporary protection order against Mr M’s former partner, Ms T, in favour of Mr M.

Ms T subsequently complained to the Lawyers Complaints Service, alleging that Humberside had entered into an intimate personal relationship with Mr M. Humberside denied the allegation.

After considering the submissions of both Ms T and Humberside, the standards committee considered that Ms T had failed to adduce any evidence whatsoever which would support her claim against Humberside.

While the committee considered that Humberside’s correspondence illustrated “that she has at all times treated Ms T in a respectful manner”, it was concerned about both the tone and content of Ms T’s email correspondence with Humberside.

The committee readily acknowledged that Family Court proceedings are stressful for the parties, particularly when there are children involved. It did not accept however, “that Ms T was entitled to make [Humberside] the target of her personal frustrations with Mr M.”

“Mr M is entitled to legal representation and to exercise his legal rights, whether by bringing proceedings or by some other means,” the committee said.

While Ms T may have been disappointed that Mr M had not accepted her offers to resolve the proceedings outside of court, Ms T did not have a right to take out her disappointment on Humberside.

“There is no place for such conduct in Family Court proceedings. All parties, whether or not they are lawyers, must conduct themselves appropriately,” the committee said.

The committee was satisfied on the material before it that Humberside had done nothing more than act on Mr M’s instructions and protect and promote her client’s interests in accordance with her professional obligations under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008.

The committee also noted that if a lawyer is sufficiently concerned by the conduct of a party to a Family Court proceeding, “they should not hesitate to raise the conduct with the Family Court Judge presiding over the matter”.