New Zealand Law Society - Disciplinary Tribunal reports significant drop in cases

Disciplinary Tribunal reports significant drop in cases

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There was a significant drop in the number of new cases filed in the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal in the year to 30 June 2015, the Tribunal says in its annual report.

It says there was a 58% reduction in "cases on hand" from the previous year, with 26 cases on hand at 30 June 2015 compared to 46 on hand at 30 June 2014. During the 2014/15 year, 36 cases were filed, compared with 51 filed in the 2013/14 year.

The Tribunal says some "administrative frustration" occurs when events beyond the control of the Chair or Deputy Chair delay expeditious process.

"For example, the oldest live files relate to two lawyers who not only face disciplinary charges, but also charges in the criminal justice system. Because there is a risk of compromising the lawyers' rights in the criminal trials to be held, the disciplinary process must await the conclusion of the criminal process. That wait has, so far, been in excess of five years."

The Tribunal also notes that other examples of delay occur as a result of lawyers seeking to review the decision of a Lawyers Standards Committee to lay charges with the Tribunal. It says the "enormous workload, and consequent backlog" in determination of such reviews by the Legal Complaints Review Officer has delayed by many months the Tribunal's ability to hear the charges.

It says efficiency cannot be allowed to come at the expense of the practitioner's right to legal representation and other natural justice principles. However, it says it is also mindful of the clear statements of the higher courts about expeditious disposition, including that of the Court of Appeal in Orlov v Auckland Lawyers Standards Committee [2013] NZCA 230.

"It is also of assistance that it is now settled law that challenges by way of judicial review should await the completion of the substantive disciplinary process (Orlov v New Zealand Law Society [2013] NZSC 94)."

The Tribunal notes that the consumer focus of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 is a consistent theme in its determinations and appellate court decisions.

"The Act would appear to be achieving its aims in this regard, but also in ensuring the continuing high reputation of the profession. It is well understood that the reputation of the legal profession is its greatest asset and that there is a collective responsibility amongst lawyers to uphold professional standards," it says.

"As stated in one of the leading cases in lawyers' discipline, a person entrusting a lawyer with possibly the most important transaction or problem of a lifetime, must be able to trust that lawyer 'to the ends of the earth' (Bolton v Law Society [1994] 2 All ER 486)."

Tribunal cases filed and cases disposed, year to 30 June

  2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
Number Filed 36 51 39 30 19 28
Number Disposed 56 35 33 26 20 23

Occupation of person charged, year to 30 June

Occupation 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
Lawyer 25 39 28 23 20 15
Former lawyer 6 5 4 2 2 1
Former employee 2 2 2 3 3 0
Total 33 46 34 28 25 16

Penalty orders made, year to 30 June 2015

Type of order Number of orders made
Struck off the Roll 12
Suspension from practice 14
Censure 19
Pay fine 3
Pay compensation 5
Reduce fees and/or refund monies 3
Undergo training or education 4
Supervision/mentoring/advice to be taken 5
Restriction on employment 2
Not able to practise on own account 3
Apology to complainant 3
Reimburse costs to New Zealand Law Society 35