24 October 2018
Law has many areas of specialty and usually there is little intersection between many of its practitioners. We have seen, however, in the recent media reports resulting from arrests as part of a Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) operation focusing on a law firm and content from the previously published CCC 2017/18 Annual Report that there are times when we are all simply identified as lawyers. The reputation of us as a profession relies upon the good conduct of each one of us in all that we do, regardless of where we practice or who our clients are.
We are currently aware of four criminal lawyers and two former clients arrested as part of Operation Stockade on charges of fraud and money laundering. According to the CCC, these arrests follow an 18-month major crime investigation.
As you can imagine, we are concerned by these arrests and are following the process set out in the Legal Profession Act 2007 closely. We take matters such as these very seriously, and appreciate that both the community and the profession want answers.
As a profession bound by ethics and founded upon honesty and integrity, it is disappointing to hear allegations that any of our members may have deviated from that path. It is also worth noting that there are only charges amounting to allegations at this stage and not convictions.
It is a statutory condition of any practising certificate that if the holder is charged with a serious offence (ie indictable offence) they must give notice of the fact of their being charged within seven days of the charge being laid. The Society will then monitor the progress of the matter as it proceeds through the criminal justice system and if it becomes aware of circumstances which justify it, call on the solicitor to show cause as to why they ought not have their practising certificate cancelled or amended. Such a situation does not arise solely because they have been charged but it may arise as the matter develops and the Society becomes aware of the evidence intended to be led in the prosecution of the charge.
Queensland Law Society is a membership body and regulator, and we will take the appropriate action if charges are substantiated. At this point in time, these are allegations and every Queenslander is entitled to due process and afforded the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise by a court of law.
We actively oppose, educate and guide against any illegal or unethical behaviour by members of our profession. This alleged behaviour is completely at odds with what the solicitors of Queensland continue to do each day to assist their clients and the community with integrity, competence and the spirit of public service. This is the true message of our profession and our real measure.
At this time, I would also like to point members to the QLS Ethics and Practice Support Centre’s Guidance Statement No.13 – Proceeds of crime compliance and Anti-Money Laundering. This statement explains the ethical obligations under anti-money laundering and proceeds of crime legislation for solicitors and firms when receiving funds from clients.
The Australian Government is still considering extending the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing reporting regime to the legal profession. We remain concerned about this, and do not believe that extending this reporting regime to lawyers would have prevented the alleged conduct described in the recent media reports.