Queensland Law Society

Legal Services Commissioner v GR Woodman [2017] QCAT 385

Legal Services Commissioner v GR Woodman [2017] QCAT 385

Catchwords

Professional misconduct and unsatisfactory professional conduct – criminal offences – whether the respondent is permanently unfit to practise or is not a fit and proper person to be a legal practitioner of the Supreme Court

Executive Summary

W (‘the Respondent’), was convicted in 2015 on two counts of grooming a child under 16 years, and one count of using the internet to procure a child under 16 years.[1]

The Legal Services Commissioner (‘the Applicant’) brought disciplinary proceedings in connection with the Respondent’s prior criminal convictions. The Applicant alleged that:

  • the respondent is guilty of professional misconduct; and
  • is no longer a fit and proper person to remain on the Roll of Legal Practitioners.

The Tribunal held that although the Respondent’s conduct did amount to professional misconduct, the case did not support a finding that the Respondent is permanently unfit to practise, or that he is not a fit and proper person to be a legal practitioner of the Supreme Court.[2]  

The Tribunal ordered that:

  1. the Respondent had engaged in professional misconduct;
  2. a local practising certificate must not be granted to the Respondent before the expiry of four years from the date of the order; and
  3. the Respondent must pay the costs of the Applicant.[3]

Background

The Respondent was admitted as a solicitor in 1981.

The Respondent has practised law for 33 years, with an untarnished professional and personal record.[4]

In the period of time leading up to the criminal offences, the Respondent’s second marriage had failed and health problems had arisen.[5]

In April 2015, the Respondent was charged with two counts of grooming a child under 16 years, and one count of using the internet to procure a child under 16.  Within a week of being charged, the Respondent attempted suicide and was admitted to a Hospital for treatment. The Respondent underwent extensive treatment with a forensic psychologist and with a psychiatrist.[6]

The Respondent pleaded guilty to all three charges. In relation to the first and second charge, the Respondent was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, which was wholly suspended for two years. In relation to the third charge, the Respondent was sentenced to imprisonment for a period for two years which was wholly suspended for a period of three years.

Issues

In the disciplinary proceedings, the Tribunal were required to determine:

a)    whether the Respondent’s conduct should be characterised as “professional misconduct” or “unsatisfactory professional conduct”; and

b)    the level of sanction appropriate.[7]

After the initial proceedings in QCAT, the Respondent wrote to the Registrar indicating that he no longer wished to resist the application and indicated that he was no longer going to attend any future hearing dates, due to ongoing medical problems.[8]

Issues considered

In consideration of the matter, the Tribunal noted the significant distinction between fitness to hold a practising certificate, and fitness to remain on the roll.[9]

His Honour referred to the decision of Legal Services Commissioner v Shand[10], where the Tribunal affirmed that an order for striking off the roll should only be made when the probability is that the solicitor is permanently unfit to practise.[11]

Referring to previous decisions of the Tribunal, and in particular CBD,[12] the Tribunal held that there were reasons which justified the imposition of a further prescribed period during which the Respondent should be ineligible to practise.[13]

The Tribunal concluded that the serious and distasteful nature of the Respondent’s conduct warranted a significant period of disqualification or suspension of practice to signify the seriousness with which such conduct is regarded, and to enable rehabilitation to take place, and to maintain public confidence in the profession.”[14] However, the circumstances of the case do not support a finding that the Respondent is permanently (emphasis added) unfit to practise, or that he is not a fit and proper person to be a legal practitioner[15] as the “cases where striking off has been held to be justified there was sustained misconduct of a kind where the person would never be fit to trust with the powers and functions entrusted to a solicitor”.[16]

 

Adriana Tate

Ethics Clerk

As approved by Grace van Baarle, Manager, Ethics Solicitor, QLS Ethics Centre



[1] Legal Services Commissioner v Woodman [2017] QCAT 385 at [4].

[2] Ibid [46].

[3] Ibid [54].

[4] Ibid [10].

[5] Ibid [11].

[6] Ibid [13].

[7] Ibid [8].

[8] Ibid [14].

[9] Ibid [33].

[10] [2017] QCAT 159.

[11] Legal Services Commissioner v Woodman [2017] QCAT 385, [37].

[12] Legal Services Commissioner v CBD [2012] QCA 69, dismissing an appeal against Legal Services Commissioner v CBD (No. 2) [2011] QCAT 446.

[13] Ibid [45].

[14] Legal Services Commissioner v Woodman [2017] QCAT 385, [49].

[15] Ibid [46].

[16] Ibid [43].