New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: High Court upholds misconduct finding

Lawyers Complaints Service: High Court upholds misconduct finding

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Boon Gunn Hong’s appeal to the High Court to quash a finding of misconduct made by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal in [2015] NZLCDT 27 has been unsuccessful. However he succeeded on penalty.

In [2016] NZHC 184, Mr Hong appealed two decisions by the Disciplinary Tribunal. The first was the misconduct finding, and the second was a penalty of two months’ suspension, ordered by the Tribunal in [2015] NZLCDT 37.

While upholding the misconduct finding, Justice Faire quashed the suspension order, because Mr Hong had already served what the Court described as an “unnecessary suspension” in relation to another case, where the High Court had quashed a finding of unsatisfactory conduct and disciplinary orders made by a standards committee.

“For that reason alone … I conclude that it is appropriate to quash the two months’ suspension ordered by the Tribunal,” Justice Faire said.

The behaviour which gave rise to the allegation of misconduct occurred in 2010 while Mr Hong was a defendant in civil proceedings in which the plaintiffs were former clients.

The former clients were represented by a barrister, his juniors and an instructing solicitor.


“The appellant then sent two letters and an email to the solicitor for the plaintiffs. In this correspondence he:

  • made allegations of incompetence against the barrister and junior barristers;
  • told the solicitor to withdraw the action against him or he would file a strike out action, seek full costs against the lawyer personally, file a claim for defamation and make a complaint to the Law Society that the solicitor was incompetent; and
  • warned the solicitor that he had better get what he promised for the clients or they would turn against him.

After a complaint to the Lawyers Complaints Service (LCS), Mr Hong sent three letters to the LCS in which he made a number of statements referring to the barrister and the junior barristers.

The LCRO (which was the respondent in the appeal) claimed the statements were abusive and unprofessional.

Mr Hong sent written submissions to the LCRO for the purpose of a review hearing in which he described “some of his unorthodox practices to achieve good outcomes for clients but in doing so described his own unethical practices,” Justice Faire said.

Mr Hong submitted the Tribunal made a number of errors in the liability decision. This included a submission that his behaviour was not, in fact, disgraceful or dishonourable. Mr Hong said that what the Tribunal considered were threats were legal demands and that what the Tribunal considered insults were justifiable criticisms.

Justice Faire noted that in the Tribunal, counsel for the LCRO submitted that statements made by Mr Hong were more than a mere dispute between practitioners because of:

  • the persistent personal attacks;
  • the threat of menace;
  • the allegations of racism and mental illness; and
  • the descent into unprofessionalism in the suggestion of a wager on the plaintiff’s case.

Disgraceful and dishonourable

“I find the appellant’s argument that the Tribunal misconstrued colloquialisms used by him to be unconvincing. This was more than extravagant language. The statements made by the appellant did contain the features listed by [counsel for the LCRO],” Justice Faire said.

“The statements made by the appellant are not in accordance with the Conduct and Client Care Rules which require that a lawyer must not threaten to make an accusation against a person for any improper purpose, that a lawyer must maintain proper standards of professionalism, and that a lawyer must treat other lawyers with proper respect and courtesy.

“I conclude that the statements made by the appellant would be regarded by lawyers of good standing as disgraceful and dishonourable conduct. Therefore, the test in s 7(1)(a)(i) [of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006] is met.

“Accordingly, the appeal against the liability decision is refused,” Justice Faire said.

Correspondence by Mr Hong that relate to the charges is attached as an appendix to Justice Faire’s decision.

Mr Hong has applied for leave to appeal the High Court decision to the Court of Appeal.

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