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Solicitor struck off in 1998 ‘still unfit to practise’

A Brisbane solicitor struck off for professional misconduct almost 24 years ago has been refused re-admission as a lawyer by the Queensland Court of Appeal.

The court described the would-be practitioner’s “current way of conducting” himself as similar to that which had him banned in the first place.

Last Friday the court dismissed Craig Stephen Bax’s application for readmission to Queensland’s legal profession under the Legal Profession Act 2007.

The court, comprising Queensland’s Chief Justice Catherine Holmes and Justices Debra Mullins and Graeme Crow, denied Bax’s application saying “public … confidence in the profession would in fact be eroded” if he were granted the privilege to practise law again.

In May 1998 the same court, then consisting of since-retired Justices Bruce McPherson, Bill Pincus and Tom Shepherdson, ordered Bax, then a 27-year-old solicitor with now defunct Brisbane firm Baker Johnson Lawyers, be struck off the role of legal practitioners.

Bax, who was first admitted as a solicitor on 15 May 1989, was found to have committed professional misconduct and fined $15,000 in July 1997 for fraudulently assisting a client facing bankruptcy and misleading his client’s creditors by the backdating of a mortgage in 1993.

In 2018, Bax sought re-admission as a solicitor and applied to the Legal Practitioners Admission Board for a declaration under s32(3)(c) of the Legal Profession Act 2007 that suitability matters relevant to him, specifically his being struck off the roll, would not adversely affect the board’s assessment of his suitability for admission.

In 2019, the board advised Bax it had resolved to refuse to make the declaration.

Bax challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal, arguing that the evidence he provided in support of his application demonstrated that the board should have been satisfied that the conduct that resulted in his being struck off would no longer adversely affect its assessment as to whether he was a fit and proper person for re-admission.

The issue before the court at that time, which dismissed Bax’s appeal, was whether the board’s refusal to make the declaration was in error.

Chief Justice Holmes, in a written 18-page decision published last week, said Bax again sought readmission as a legal practitioner at the end of June 2020 and submitted material in support of his application to Queensland’s Legal Practitioners Admissions Board.

“On 1 September 2020, the board resolved to oppose (Bax’s) application for readmission,” she said.

The Legal Practitioners Admissions Board is the body responsible for making recommendations to the Supreme Court in respect of applications for admission to the legal profession in Queensland.

Its primary role is to consider the eligibility (academic qualifications and practical legal training) and suitability (good reputation and character) of applications for admission at a local, domestic and international level.

In dismissing Bax’s appeal, Chief Justice Holmes said: “There are, I think, some resemblances in (Bax’s) current way of conducting himself to that exhibited prior to his striking-off.

“I am not satisfied that he … would not again engage in conduct of the kind which caused his striking off. Nor do I consider that the public interest and the interests of the profession would appropriately be safeguarded were (Bax) to be readmitted, whatever conditions might be applied (against him).

“Indeed it seems to me that if the public were made aware that (Bax) were readmitted … their confidence in the profession would in fact be eroded. I would dismiss the application for admission to the legal profession.”

Justices Mullins and Crow agreed.

The court was told that, since being banned from practising law, Bax had spent much of the past two decades as a debt collector, tax and real estate agent.

Read the full decision.

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