New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Censure follows assault conviction

Lawyers Complaints Service: Censure follows assault conviction

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Former lawyer Dugal Matheson, of Thames, has been censured by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal after he was convicted on a charge of male assaults female.

A majority of three Tribunal members considered a very short period of suspension would have been proper to mark the seriousness of the matter. However a minority of the Tribunal disagreed, and suspension requires at least five Tribunal members in agreement.

Judge Andrée-Wiltens found Mr Matheson guilty on one charge of male assaults female in the Hamilton District Court on 9 May 2013. He was convicted and sentenced on 26 July 2013. The assault occurred in December 2011 when Mr Matheson had a practising certificate.

On 3 June 2014, the High Court dismissed Mr Matheson’s appeal against conviction.

In [2015] NZLCDT 4, Mr Matheson admitted a charge of having been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment that brought the profession into disrepute. “The ‘reflection on fitness to practice’ limb part of the subsection was withdrawn,” the Tribunal noted.

“A conviction for violence of this sort must of itself bring the profession into disrepute and this is accepted by Mr Matheson in his guilty plea.

“However, having said that, we do accept Mr Matheson’s submission that the publicity surrounding his hearing and the appeal focused on his previous role as a police prosecutor rather than as a lawyer, so in that respect we take that into account.

“It is also common ground that this is not a case where public protection need be a serious concern for the Tribunal. Despite that, Mr Matheson agrees with the submission put forward on behalf of the standards committee, that a conviction of this kind in all likelihood will lead to a period of suspension as a proper professional disciplinary response,” the Tribunal said.

It also noted that while the behaviour was serious, it did have a context and the conviction did not demonstrate a propensity to violence.

Mitigating factors included Mr Matheson fully co-operating throughout the disciplinary process, that he had not defended the amended charge and that he had sought counselling and completed a “Living Without Violence” programme.

“It is clear that [Mr Matheson] has had a 20-year career in the police force and has a long and previously unblemished career. His references, which are many and impressive, attest to his dedicated public service and we consider he ought to receive considerable credit for that.

“Of the people who come before this Tribunal, we would want to say to you, Mr Matheson, that you are a person who has a great deal to contribute to the profession in the future,” the Tribunal said.

It imposed the formal censure, the Tribunal said “to mark the profession’s disapproval of any form of domestic violence. We record your submission to us today that that accords with your own personal view and accords with your view in 15 years of prosecuting domestic violence that you also do not condone these actions.”

As well as the censure, the Tribunal ordered Mr Matheson to pay $6,700 Law Society costs.

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