Queensland Law Society

Legal Services Commissioner v PA Corbett [2018] QCAT 36

Legal Services Commissioner v PA Corbett [2018] QCAT 36

Catchwords

Disciplinary proceedings – professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct – neglect and delay – trust funds.

Executive summary

In 2015 the Legal Services Commissioner (‘the applicant’) brought two charges against Ms C (‘the respondent’) under the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) (‘LPA’).

Orders made:

  1. the name of the respondent be removed from the roll of solicitors
  2. the respondent pay the applicant’s costs of an incidental in this proceeding, such costs to be assessed on the standard basis according to the Supreme Court scale.

Background

In December 2013, the respondent was made bankrupt on the petition of the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation.

In response to the sequestration order being made, the respondent referred her matter to Queensland Law Society (‘QLS’).

Following the respondent’s referral, QLS appointed receivers in respect of the practice being conducted by the respondent.

Consequent to investigations conducted by the receivers and QLS and also a complaint made by clients, the respondent’s conduct was referred to the applicant.

In April 2015, the applicant filed two charges against the respondent under the LPA:

  • charge 1 alleged either unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct of the respondent relating to the ‘non-handling’ of a conveyancing transaction on behalf of clients
  • charge 2 alleged either unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct of the respondent relating to a trust account defalcation to a sum of $18,945.55.[1]

In response to the application, the respondent largely admitted the allegations made by the respondent.

Issues

Did the respondent’s conduct with regards to the charges constitute unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct?

Issues considered

In relation to charge 1, the respondent was engaged to act for a client in a particular conveyance.

On settlement day, the respondent did not appear, nor did anyone else on behalf of the client.

It was clear to the Tribunal that no arrangement had been made for the client’s representation at settlement despite the respondent making ‘clear and unequivocal representation’ to the client that arrangements would be made for agents to appear on the client’s behalf. [2]

The respondent submitted the delivery of the client’s file to QLS was sufficient to produce an expectation that QLS would attend settlement on the respondent’s client’s behalf.

The Tribunal held the respondent’s conduct betrayed a lack of appreciation of the tenacity expected of a solicitor in ensuring a client’s best interests are attended to.[3]

With respect to charge 1, the Tribunal found that the charge had been made out and amounted to professional misconduct.[4]

In relation to Charge 2, the respondent submitted the defalcation of money from the trust account arose mistakenly from a software issue and she sought to rectify the mistake.

The Tribunal held the submission made by the respondent in relation to charge 2 to be ‘hollow’ and simply senseless.[5]

The Tribunal was satisfied that charge 2 was made out and also amounted to professional misconduct.

The Tribunal held the two charges made out pointed to a lack of fitness and propriety in the respondent to hold the office of a solicitor.[6]

The breaches committed were held to conflict with fundamental principles of client-solicitor relationships and were contrary to the way in which members of the community can rightly expect solicitors to practice.[7]

As such, it was held the respondent engaged in professional misconduct and was considered unfit and improper to engage in legal practice.[8]

The Tribunal held it necessary in the overall public interest to order the name of the respondent be removed from the roll of solicitors.[9]

 

Liam O’Shaughnessy

As approved by Stafford Shepherd, Director, QLS Ethics Centre



[1] Legal Services Commissioner v Corbett [2018] QCAT 36, [3].

[2] Ibid [10].

[3] Ibid [11]; see Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012, rule 4.1.1.

[4] Legal Services Commissioner v Corbett [2018] QCAT 36, [11].

[5] Ibid [15].

[6] Ibid [18].

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid [19].

[9] Ibid [21].