New Zealand Law Society - Appeal to be admitted refused by court

Appeal to be admitted refused by court

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The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a law graduate to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor on the grounds that he could not prove he was a fit and proper person.

Richard Lincoln applied unsuccessfully to the High Court last year to be admitted. His application to the High Court was denied on the ground that he could not satisfy the court that he was a ‘fit and proper person’ for admission, as required under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

Mr Lincoln completed his law degree at the University of Canterbury in 2017 when he was 55. After completing his professional examinations, he applied to the Canterbury Westland branch of the New Zealand Law Society for a certificate of character. Before the process was complete, he applied to the High Court for admission as a barrister and solicitor. The NZLS opposed his application on the ground that Mr Lincoln has an enduring ‘frailty’ of character that renders him not a fit and proper person to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor. In the High Court, Dunningham J agreed with the Law Society.

In 2015, Mr Lincoln had been arrested on firearms charges and resisting a police officer in the execution of his duty. After those charges were dismissed in July 2017, Mr Lincoln began a campaign against one of the police officers, which involved civil and criminal proceedings and posting disparaging comments on Facebook. This conduct was consistent with his aggressive attitude to a senior police officer in 1993, who had revoked Mr Lincoln’s firearms licence.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Mr Lincoln submitted that Dunningham J had erred by not taking into account that Mr Lincoln would, if admitted, be required to practise under supervision for at least three years.

The Court of Appeal was satisfied that Dunningham J correctly concluded that Mr Lincoln is not a fit and proper person to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.

“His defect of character is profound and very disconcerting,” the Court of Appeal said in his decision. The Court of Appeal said it is satisfied that “Mr Lincoln suffers from a longstanding and enduring defect in his character that causes him to react in an aggressive, threatening and wholly unbalanced way against those whom he perceives have wrongly challenged him.”

The court said the defects in his character were evident as long ago as 1993 and had not diminished with time as his relentless pursuit of the police officer was “very disturbing and closely mirrored the conduct that resulted in the District Court being very critical of Mr Lincoln in its 1994 Judgment” (challenging the decision to revoke his firearms licence).

“Mr Lincoln is not a fit and proper person to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor. His defect of character is profound and very disconcerting.”

The Court of Appeal further held that the threats made against the officer and others involved multiple breaches of duties amplified in the Conduct and Client Care Rules issued by the Law Society. If a lawyer had conducted him or herself in this way, they would face serious disciplinary consequences, the Court of Appeal said.

Regarding the submission that supervision might ameliorate concerns, the court  said that this would be possible in a finely balanced assessment of the suitability for admission. Mr Lincoln, however, was well below the cusp of being a fit and proper person. There was no evidence before the court that Mr Lincoln’s unbalanced attitude could be managed through supervision.

Lincoln v New Zealand Law Society [2019] NZCA 442