Each of New Zealand’s 24 lawyers standards committees is required to make its own decisions based on the particular facts before it and after considering the views of the parties, the New Zealand Law Society says.
Reported comments by an Auckland barrister on her interactions with a standards committee have focused attention on the role and operation of standards committees.
“While the New Zealand Law Society appoints both lawyer and non-lawyer members of each committee and provides administrative and other support, each committee must independently consider and decide every matter before it,” Law Society acting Executive Director Mary Ollivier says.
“That is to ensure fairness and that decisions are made free of any undue influence or external pressure and based strictly on the merits of the information before the committee.”
Mrs Ollivier says during its investigation of a matter a standards committee may make a “no further action” finding at any time, and this often occurs.
“There is a necessary process to be followed and this requires the gathering of evidence, setting down of hearings on the papers and communications to the parties. Many matters which are set down for a hearing end with a finding that no further action is required – which is another way of saying the committee has found the lawyer has not breached their professional obligations.
“Lawyers standards committees are the first stage in what is a multi-tiered system for resolving complaints and other disciplinary matters in the legal profession. All standards committee findings can be appealed to the independent Legal Complaints Review Officer.
“Appeals are also possible to the courts on matters of law and other findings. If a finding was made by a standards committee that the Law Society fundamentally disagreed with, there is a proper legal process which would allow the Law Society to appeal that decision.”