New Zealand Law Society - Suspension penalty increased for misconduct

Suspension penalty increased for misconduct

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa acknowledges today’s High Court judgment, following an appeal by the Standards Committee, which increases James Gardner-Hopkins' suspension as a practising lawyer from two years to the maximum period of three years.

The High Court regarded Mr Gardner-Hopkins' misconduct as serious, and said “it is conduct that is wholly unacceptable in the legal profession.”

The judgment recognises the importance of the public and the profession being able to have confidence that those entering the profession will be safe and treated with respect, and ensuring that misconduct is appropriately dealt with in a way which both the profession and the public expect.

The High Court’s decision means Mr Gardner-Hopkins cannot practise as a lawyer in New Zealand for three years. The penalty imposed also means Mr Gardner-Hopkins will not automatically be able to work as a lawyer after his suspension ends in February 2025.

Following suspension, he will need to apply to the Law Society for a new practising certificate and he will have to prove he is fit and proper to be a lawyer again.

The Law Society acknowledges the time this matter has taken to progress and the effect this has had on the women involved.

As an organisation, we have already made changes to our process to make it more suitable for sensitive complaints like this one. Other changes to ensure the complaints system can be faster, more victim-focused and transparent require amendments to our legislation.

As well as this, the Independent Review of legal services in Aotearoa New Zealand is currently consulting with the legal profession and the wider public to identify what changes are needed for modern and well-functioning regulation and representation of the legal profession in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Law Society has already adopted recommendations from the inquiry undertaken by Dame Silvia Cartwright including mandatory reporting obligations for sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and other inappropriate workplace behaviour within the legal profession, clearer behavioural standards, and ‘whistle-blower’ protection.

The High Court concludes that “Mr Gardner-Hopkins' actions were serious. All the young women were particularly vulnerable. Quite apart from his physical presence and the age difference between them, as a partner of the firm, Mr Gardner-Hopkins was responsible for their safety and wellbeing.”

The Law Society will continue its focus on making positive changes for the legal profession and wider public.

Read the High Court judgment here