Richard Harker has retained his right to continue to practice by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, subject to conditions. These conditions include obtaining the written approval of the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa and a condition that for five years, he will not, as a lawyer, be in the presence of any person under the age of 16 except in the physical presence of another lawyer.
“The Tribunal reached its own independent view that Mr Harker could retain the right to practise as a lawyer, subject to certain conditions”, says the Law Society’s Chief Executive Helen Morgan-Banda.
“The convictions were of a serious and troubling nature and the Law Society rightly took the step of referring him to the Disciplinary Tribunal, which considers the most serious disciplinary cases against lawyers.”
Mr Harker was convicted in December 2017 in the Hamilton District Court of two charges of committing an indecent act. This related to him touching, on two separate occasions, the bottoms of two boys aged 10 and 12 respectively.
On 30 April 2018 the District Court imposed several rehabilitative sentences, including intensive supervision for 18 months, 160 hours’ community work and reparation payments of $1,000.
He faced one charge in the Disciplinary Tribunal that his convictions brought the legal profession into disrepute and/or reflected upon his fitness to practice. Mr Harker accepted that they brought the profession into disrepute but denied that they reflected upon his fitness to practice.
The Tribunal stated: “We accept what Mr Harker describes as his ‘moral commitment to the [the Tribunal] and [his] profession never to engage in such conduct again’. We accept Mr Harker’s evidence that he deeply regrets the significant harm done to his victims. We acknowledge the good faith undertakings that Mr Harker has given (and offers to continue) to ensure that he can practice with minimal (if any) risk to young persons.”
The Tribunal further stated that it was satisfied that Mr Harker understood the reasons for his offending and showed appropriate remorse. It was satisfied that Mr Harker has strong support networks and is acutely conscious of the need to remind himself regularly of “the steps he must take to avoid putting himself in a position where he may reoffend”.
In declining to suspend Mr Harker the Tribunal stated: “We accept that Mr Harker has done as much as could possibly have been done to rehabilitate and consider that he is well along the path to redemption.”
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal is an independent judicial body comprised of three lawyers and two lay people.