New Zealand Law Society - Strong support for increased transparency and efficiency around complaints process

Strong support for increased transparency and efficiency around complaints process

New Zealand lawyers are strongly in favour of changes that would improve the efficiency of the lawyers’ complaints process while also making it more victim focused.

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa sought feedback on potential changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (the Act) to gauge support across the profession. The Minister of Justice agreed to us consulting with the profession on these proposed changes with the purpose of providing the Minister and Ministry of Justice with early feedback and views from the profession.

The changes relate to three key amendments to the Act, which would:

1. Maintain public confidence in the complaints process – Allow for some disclosure of information, particularly to those personally affected, and in cases of high public interest where we need to provide assurances that complaints have been received and are being dealt with appropriately.

2. Free up resources to focus on the right complaints – Enable the Law Society to administratively triage certain types of complaints where no further action is required rather than requiring all complaints to go through the same process.

3. Ensure that technical complaints with no merit do not impact resources – Remove the ability to lodge frivolous technical complaints about staff involved in the Lawyers Complaints Service, and Standards Committee members, while they are carrying out duties relating to the Lawyers Complaints Service. Complaints will still be able to be made about the Lawyers Complaints Service, but these would not be dealt with through the standards committee process.

Unrelated to the complaints system, a fourth amendment was also consulted on that would ensure that conveyancer undertakings are enforceable by a Court in the same manner as undertakings given by lawyers.

Law Society President Tiana Epati said the feedback demonstrated that the majority of the profession understood and agreed with the rationale behind the proposals.

“I am encouraged by the widespread support for improving the effectiveness and transparency of our complaints process. The legal profession has taken great strides in recent years, particularly in regard to exposing toxic workplaces, sexual harassment and bullying,” Ms Epati said.

“We need to keep up that momentum and these changes are a fundamental part of doing that.

“The most important aspect in my view – being that of transparency – is particularly crucial from a victims’ perspective and will help maintain the confidence we want everyone to have in our complaints system.

“At the moment, the Law Society can’t even confirm whether we have received a complaint, or whether we are investigating. The information that victims and other parties involved are able to receive is also limited.”

Almost 60 per cent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with this change and 90 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the ability to triage complaints.

These changes would also complement the new Rules of Conduct and Client Care which came into force on 1 July 2021 and address bullying, harassment and discrimination in the legal profession.

Ms Epati said the Law Society had anticipated that there would be some lawyers who disagreed with some of the proposals.

“That was reflected in some of the submissions and around 30 per cent of submitters disagreed with the key transparency change. We would expect higher levels of support among the public and past and future complainants.”

Some submitters appeared to overestimate the extent of the information that would be allowed to be disclosed. Other concerns related to the reputation of the lawyer concerned, as well as natural justice.

“I’m confident we can address most of these concerns with clear communication and further consultation on the policy that would guide the disclosure of information.

“The Law Society firmly believes that these changes are needed now to promote trust and maintain confidence in our complaints system to the benefit of all parties,” Ms Epati said.