New Zealand Law Society - Wellington barrister and solicitor, loses appeal, suspended over historic charges

Wellington barrister and solicitor, loses appeal, suspended over historic charges

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A Wellington barrister and solicitor has lost his Court of Appeal challenge to a 2017 disciplinary decision and will be suspended from practising law from 1 July.

Peter James Morahan challenged a decision by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal to suspend him from practice for four months from December 2017 in relation to two charges.

He was also ordered to pay costs of $37,171.63 at the time.

The charges were historic in that they occurred between 2002 and 2008.

The first charge involved property transactions where he acted for Ms B, Mr J and a Trust, of which he was also a trustee.  It was found that Mr Morahan had breached the professional duties he owed Ms B by acting for Mr J and the Trust in a way that disadvantaged Ms B.  

The second charge alleged Mr Morahan breached professional duties he owed to the same trustee – Ms B, following the breakup of the couple’s marriage, and in relation to proceedings in the Family Court.

The Court of Appeal found that Mr Morahan’s conduct in the Family Court proceedings was a grave breach of his professional duties, not just to Ms B, but also to the Family Court.

The Court also found that he acted in a way that fell well short of the standards expected of a lawyer in his position. His conduct was very troubling and undoubtedly brought into issue his fitness to practice as a Barrister or Solicitor. It said his conduct was also of a kind that brings the law profession into disrepute.

The New Zealand Law Society’s Director Regulatory, Mary Ollivier, says the Court of Appeal in dismissing the appeal reinforced the need for lawyers to always be aware of acting in the best interests of their client - particularly when acting for more than one client and also their overriding duty to the Court.

“The standards are set high for significant reasons - the public must be able to trust all lawyers and therefore have confidence in the New Zealand justice system,” Mrs Ollivier says.

The appeal against both charges was dismissed and the Tribunal’s findings on liability and penalties were upheld. Mr Morahan’s suspension from practising law for four months will begin on 1 July, 2019.