New Zealand Law Society - Former lawyer suspended for nine months for tax evasion

Former lawyer suspended for nine months for tax evasion

Failing to file GST returns, pay GST or submit income tax returns over a ten year period has led to a nine month suspension for former Christchurch lawyer Christopher Persson. The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) found that Mr Persson’s offending was serious and included a number of aggravating and mitigating features. The Tribunal accepted that public protection concerns were not at issue, but that suspension for a period of nine months was necessary to provide a responsible and proportionate response to the offending.

Mr Persson admitted one charge under s 241(c) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 of having been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment and the conviction tended to bring his profession into disrepute. Mr Persson had pleaded guilty to 33 charges of tax evasion, with the total amount of GST and income tax evaded being $224,850. He was sentenced to five months home detention in respect of the criminal charges.

The Tribunal noted that its purpose was not to punish Mr Persson further, but “to properly reflect the disapprobation of the profession and that the profession will not treat lightly serious breaches of expected standards of its members”. It noted that the sentence imposed by the criminal court was “a highly relevant starting point” and a sentence of five months’ home detention demonstrated the seriousness of Mr Persson’s offending. The Tribunal noted that other aggravating features included the length of the offending, the size of the default, Mr Persson’s failure to keep promises to IRD to file returns and pay his taxes and his previous conviction for failing to file returns. Mr Persson also had three previous findings of unsatisfactory conduct.

In terms of mitigating features, the Tribunal noted that Mr Persson had accepted the disciplinary charge at the earliest opportunity, showed remorse and repaid the full tax amount promptly. He had worked in a demanding area of law and had been affected by the Christchurch earthquakes and the changes to the legal aid system (although his previous conviction for similar offending had preceded both those events). Mr Persson had retired in 2022 and it was accepted that he did not pose a direct risk to the public.

Taking the seriousness of the offending and the aggravating and mitigating features into account, the Tribunal concluded that a period of suspension of nine months was necessary to provide a responsible and proportionate response to Mr Persson’s offending. Mr Persson was also ordered to pay costs.

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