A lawyer has been fined $5,000 and his employee has been censured after they failed to submit their client’s visa application in a timely manner.
A lawyers standards committee found unsatisfactory conduct both by the lawyer, Gloucester, and the employee of the lawyer, Lancashire.
The complainants were two foreign nationals who arrived in New Zealand in July 2009. They initially held student visas, although they were granted further visas over time.
Finally, on 23 May 2012, both were granted work visas expiring on 23 May 2013. During the currency of those visas, one of the complainants, Mr Northampton, sought to submit a work visa application supported by his employer.
However, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) declined that application, and in late November 2013, Gloucester’s firm was consulted for advice concerning Mr Northampton’s immigration options.
The committee found that Lancashire did not attend to matters in a timely fashion and failed to respond to INZ’s request for further submissions from her client, while at the same time conveying an impression to the complainants that the work was in hand.
The fact that Lancashire did not tell the complainants that judicial review was an option, nor that it was an option to appeal their impending deportation to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal “are both significant failures”, the committee said.
“Both the opportunity to apply for judicial review and the potential appeal had time limits. Before the complainants were made aware of these options, the time limits had expired.”
Lancashire failed to respond to the clients in a timely manner and did not complete the retainer, despite there being ample time to do so.
The committee also found a number of Lancashire’s communications with her clients were intentionally misleading.
Lancashire also failed to keep her clients informed about progress on the retainer and failed to promptly answer requests for information.
Failure to competently supervise
In relation to Gloucester, the committee found that he failed to competently supervise and manage Lancashire.
“Gloucester accepts personally and through his counsel that there were occasions where both he and [Lancashire] could and should have responded more quickly to the requests by the complainants for information. Their apology is offered.”
Gloucester, through his counsel, “responsibly accepts” that the regulated services were “not completed as quickly as they could have been or indeed at all. In apologising, he is unable to offer any justification for this.”
Gloucester also failed to take reasonable steps to ensure his client was kept informed about progress, and in particular that he had instructed Lancashire to defer lodging a section 61 application until he returned from overseas.
As well as censuring Lancashire and fining Gloucester $5,000, the committee ordered Gloucester to pay $1,000 costs, and made orders that the facts be published, but not any details that might lead to identification of the parties involved.
The complainants also sought compensation. On review, the Legal Complaints Review Officer upheld the committee’s decisions and also ordered Gloucester to pay $2,500 compensation in relation to stress and anguish.