New Zealand Law Society - Failed to engage with complaints process

Failed to engage with complaints process

Published on 6 March 2020

[All names used in this article are fictitious.]

A lawyer has been fined $500 for failing to engage with the complaints process in a timely manner.

A lawyers standards committee commenced an own motion investigation of the lawyer, Cumbria, after a District Court Judge sent his sentencing notes to the Lawyers Complaints Service.

Whilst inquiring into that matter, the standards committee directed Cumbria to produce his file in relation to the retainer.

However, after requests by email and telephone failed to elicit the production of the file, the committee commenced a second own motion investigation into Cumbria’s failure to comply with a lawful direction.

Further requests

Further requests for Cumbria’s file were made in February, March and April 2019. Cumbria eventually provided his file on 6 May 2019.

“Even though [Cumbria] has now provided the file, it was late by some margin and no sensible (let alone reasonable) excuse has been proffered,” the committee said.

“[Cumbria]’s failure to provide his file in a timely manner has hindered the committee’s inquiry and prevented the committee from addressing in an efficient and timely manner concerns raised by a judicial officer about the practitioner’s conduct and competence.”

Non-compliance serious

Non-compliance with directions of a committee is, without lawful justification, a “serious matter”. Otherwise, “there would be a tendency for directions to be regarded by a lawyer and the profession to be futile, undermining the credibility and authority of the Lawyers Complaints Service”.

Reasonable engagement with the complaints process and mandatory compliance with directions is necessary for the Lawyers Complaints Service and committees to comply with the focus of section 3 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, to protect the consumers of legal services and provide a responsive regulatory regime.

The committee determined there had been unsatisfactory conduct on the part of Cumbria. In addition to the fine, the committee ordered Cumbria to pay $1,000 costs.