Auckland lawyer Nigel David Mason has been censured and suspended for three months by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Tribunal. The suspension commenced 23 November 2020.
The Tribunal, administered by the Ministry of Justice, ordered the suspension after making a finding of misconduct in relation to several shortcomings in the mismanagement of his client Trust Accounts. The Tribunal is the only body able to determine whether a lawyer’s offending reaches the threshold of misconduct and order suspension as a penalty.
A Lawyers Standards Committee referred Mr Mason’s case to the Tribunal to determine whether the offending reached the threshold for misconduct.
The Tribunal stated that while it understood how the breaches happened and continued, the breaches were not merely technical.
“The duty imposed on a solicitor to account scrupulously for money in a trust account is a fundamental obligation, one that the public are entitled to rely upon as a guarantee of security and fidelity. No client lost money in this case but clients did not receive their funds in a timely manner. That means that standards such as keeping adequate records and periodic reconciliations must be enforced. Where those standards are not adhered to, penalties must generally be imposed to encourage other practitioners to comply with the trust account requirements and to demonstrate fidelity to the public.”
While no client funds were misappropriated, the overall period of breach in Mr Mason managing his trust account extended from October 2016 to June 2018.
In reaching a decision of suspension and censure, the Tribunal considered that Mr Mason’s seven previously disciplinary matters were an aggravating feature. They also determined Mr Mason’s financial circumstances precluded a fine, or costs orders being made.