New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: No jurisdiction to make findings and orders

Lawyers Complaints Service: No jurisdiction to make findings and orders

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A determination of a standards committee which found unsatisfactory conduct against a lawyer who has now been struck off has been reversed by the Legal Complaints Review Officer (LCRO).

The LCRO also reversed determinations allowing publication of the lawyer’s name, the decision to censure and orders for compensation, a fine and costs (LCRO 273/2013, 343/2013, 040/2014).

The lawyer, D, had acted for a client, N, who then changed lawyers and instructed H. H asked D for the client file and to account for money held in D’s trust account. H also provided D with an authority signed by N.

H complained that D did not respond appropriately or in a timely manner. The standards committee that dealt with the matter decided to refer it to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, and D sought a review of this.

In 2011 the LCRO upheld the committee’s decision, but noted that as the lawyer was no longer practising it was open to the committee not to pursue the matter further.

The committee met again, and as D had been struck off in the meantime, it revoked its decision to send H’s complaint to the Tribunal and instead dealt with the matter itself, making an unsatisfactory conduct finding.

D then appealed the committee’s decision to resume jurisdiction, opposed the finding of unsatisfactory conduct and the order relating to penalties as “excessive.”

In the current decision the LCRO has found that in deciding to refer the matter to the Tribunal, the committee had exhausted its statutory jurisdiction and could not properly make any finding about D’s conduct. This was because the LCRO had made no order directing the committee to take up the matter again.

The finding of unsatisfactory conduct was therefore reversed. As a result, the orders made consequent on the finding of unsatisfactory conduct fell away along with the decision to identify D publicly.

The LCRO said that as D was no longer in practice, “this review process is not the appropriate process through which to address any residual concerns [H] or [the] client may have in those respects”.

The LCRO therefore declined to make any further inquiry or investigation, adding that if any further disciplinary action were undertaken it would be a matter for the Tribunal should the committee decide to proceed with its prosecution.

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