Whanganui lawyer Richard Geoffrey Warren Austin has been censured and fined $3,000 after admitting a charge of unsatisfactory conduct in the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
His unsatisfactory conduct arose when he falsely certified signatures on declarations which were submitted to Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). Mr Austin did not inform LINZ that the declarations either were not in his possession when the e-dealing was certified or were not retained on the client file or that the new declarations were backdated and not properly witnessed.
A routine audit by LINZ found that there was a missing declaration. Mr Austin relied on an experienced staff member’s assurance that it had been executed and must have been lost. He instructed a duplicate or replica to be produced which was sent to the client. This was subsequently witnessed (not in the client’s presence) and the declaration taken on their return. He then certified the document as correct to LINZ.
It was only after dispatching the “replacement” declaration to LINZ that Mr Austin began to worry that his staff member may have been mistaken and that the document prepared on his instruction was not a duplicate.
The Tribunal found that the error involved was not one which could have affected the integrity of the land registration process. This was because it was a declaration of death.
Mr Austin had known the deceased, was personally aware of his death and he had a death certificate. He did not attempt to conceal his error and notified his partners. In censuring Mr Austin the Tribunal recognised that no harm could have come from an error of this sort and that he had done everything necessary to set it right.
Mr Austin was also ordered to pay costs of $11,806 and to reimburse hearing costs of $2,694.