The office of the Legal Complaints Review Officer made significant progress in the year to 30 June 2018 in addressing the substantial backlog of cases that has accumulated over a number of years, Legal Complaints Review Officer Rex Maidment says.
The annual report of the Legal Complaints Review Officer for the year to 30 June 2018 has been tabled in Parliament.
In an overview of the year, Mr Maidment says instrumental in the Office achieving an improvement in the number of cases disposed of has been the appointment - with the approval of the Minister of Justice - of three delegates to assist the Office.
He says the delegates, former lawyers Robert Hesketh, Owen Vaughan and Roderick Joyce QC, have brought to the Office a considerable experience and expertise in professional disciplinary matters.
"The task of managing a formidable backlog of cases nevertheless continues to present as the biggest challenge facing the Office," Mr Maidment says.
He says it is anticipated that the passage of the Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill will assist the Office in its efforts to reduce the backlog. The bill has now been passed and received the Royal assent on 13 November 2018.
The role of the LCRO is to independently review decisions made by standards committees of the New Zealand Law Society and the New Zealand Society of Conveyancers on complaints against lawyers and conveyancers. The LCRO is administered by the Ministry of Justice and the LCRO may not be a practising lawyer.
350 applications still to be completed
The annual report states that at 30 June 2018 there were 350 applications for review to be completed, compared to 532 at 30 June 2017.
Of those applications still outstanding, 161 (46%) were lodged in the previous 12 months, 104 (30%) between July 2016 and June 2017, 77 (22%) between July 2015 and June 2016, and 8 (2%) before July 2015.
In the year to 30 June 2018 the LCRO completed 421 reviews. This was up on the 325 reviews completed in the year to 30 June 2017 and 320 completed in the year to 30 June 2016. Of the reviews completed in the 2017/18 year, 92 (22%) were completed within 6 months, 35 (8%) were completed within 6-12 months, and 294 (70%) were completed in over 12 months.
During the year to 30 June 2018 the LCRO received 239 applications for review. This was slightly down on 252 applications in the previous year.
During the 2017/18 year the New Zealand Law Society's lawyers standards committees disposed of 1319 complaints. The LCRO was asked to review 239 decisions in the same period, indicating that 18% of lawyers standards committee decisions proceeded to a review.
Result of reviews
Over the year, out of the 421 reviews it completed, the LCRO confirmed 250 (59%) standards committee decisions, confirmed but modified 23 (5%), and reversed or partially reversed 56 decisions (13%). Another 2 decisions were reversed with a direction that the matters be considered by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal and 9 decisions were referred back to the standards committee for reconsideration. Six decisions were declined for lack of jurisdiction to review and 75 reviews (18%) were withdrawn or settled by way of agreement between the parties.