‘Barrister’ follows dishonest path to practise in NSW

Council of the New South Wales Bar Association v Siggins [2021] NSWCA 40

Mr Siggins was admitted as a lawyer in New South Wales in 2007 with the intention of practising as a barrister.

In 2008 and 2009, Mr Siggins sat the NSW Bar exams and failed both times. Despite this, Mr Siggins practised as a barrister in NSW between 2008 and 2017 by obtaining an annual practising certificate issued by the Law Society of Tasmania in 2008 and 2009; as well as obtaining an annual practising certificate issued by the Queensland Bar Association between 2010 and 2017.

The NSW Bar Council contended that, between late 2008 and mid-2017, Mr Siggins’ principal place of practice was New South Wales and that each time he applied for a practising certificate from another jurisdiction during that time, he intended to continue practising principally in New South Wales for the term of the relevant practising certificate. The Bar Council alleged that Mr Siggins repeatedly and dishonestly misrepresented his true position to regulatory authorities.1

Issues

The issues considered were whether Mr Siggins:2

  1. dishonestly represented to the Law Society of Tasmania that Tasmania was his principal place of practice
  2. dishonestly represented to the Bar Association of Queensland in practising certificate applications that Queensland was his intended principal place of practice during the prospective periods covered by those applications, and
  3. contravened the Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW)3 from July 2009 to June 2015 and the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW)4 from July 2015 to June 2017, by failing to apply for a New South Wales practising certificate throughout that period.

There was no contest as to the content of those representations and the central issues were whether those representations were made dishonestly and if so, whether there should be a declaration of unfitness and an order that Mr Siggins be removed from the roll.5

Issues considered

The court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Mr Siggins was dishonest in the representations he made before mid-2011 as submitted and relied upon by the Bar Council.6

The court noted that, since failing the NSW Bar exam for the second time in July 2009, the respondent commenced the Queensland Practice Training Course which he completed on 19 February 2010. Mr Siggins indicated that he came to Queensland to practise as a barrister because he had “half grown up” in the state and was not getting any work in Tasmania.7

However, the court formed the view that, although Mr Siggins denied it, the “more likely explanation is the fact there was at the time no requirement to sit any examinations for admission as a barrister in Queensland”.8

The court also reached the conclusion that, from 2011 to 2017, Mr Siggins made representations to the Queensland Bar Association that were deliberately dishonest in that it was not his intention or belief that he would principally practise in Queensland in the ensuing period.9

The evidence established that it was a deliberate decision on his part to practise principally in NSW from early 2011 and, to avoid having to pass the NSW Bar exams, he applied for practising certificates in Queensland despite living, working, and appearing in courts located in NSW and “having no practice in Queensland”.10

The court then considered Mr Siggins’ fitness to practice, to which the court agreed with the council’s submission that the conduct of the respondent was incompatible with the characteristics of honesty and integrity required of a barrister.11 Furthermore, the court found that Mr Siggins’ continued denial of wrongdoing demonstrated no remorse for his conduct.12

The court declared that Mr Siggins was not a fit and proper person and ordered that he be removed from the roll of Australian lawyers maintained by the Supreme Court of New South Wales and that he pay the council’s costs of the proceedings.13

Read the NSW Court of Appeal decision.

Janelle Linato is a Law Student in the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre. This article was approved by Grace van Baarle, Manager and Ethics Solicitor, QLS Ethics and Practice Centre.

Footnotes
1 Council of the New South Wales Bar Association v Siggins [2021] NSWCA 40, 3 (Siggins).
2 Ibid 4.
3 Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW) s45 (6).
4 Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) cl.5 of Sch.3.
5 Siggins (n1) 6.
6 Ibid 13.
7 Ibid 55.
8 Ibid 56.
9 Ibid 112.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid 191.
12 Ibid 192.
13 Ibid 198.

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