Solicitor struck off in 1998 ordered to pay partial costs for failed readmission bid

A Brisbane solicitor struck off for professional misconduct almost 24 years ago has been ordered to pay partial costs for his recent failed bid for readmission as a lawyer.

The Queensland Court of Appeal on Friday ordered Craig Stephen Bax to pay the Legal Practitioners Admission Board’s (LPAB) costs for “the second day” of a hearing to decide if he should be allowed to practise as a solicitor.

In May this year QLS Proctor reported the Court of Appeal decision to deny Bax’s application, noting a finding that “public … confidence in the profession would in fact be eroded” if he were granted the privilege to practise law again.

The court, comprising Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes and Justices Debra Mullins and Graeme Crow, described the would-be practitioner’s “current way of conducting” himself as similar to that which had him banned in the first place.

Chief Justice Holmes, in a written decision, said the LPAB had sought costs against Bax in this case, even though it was not the board’s usual policy to seek costs on matters concerning admission to the practice.

In Queensland, the Supreme Court is responsible for the admission of lawyers and is assisted by the LPAB, which issues recommendations as to the eligibility and suitability of applicants in the form of a certificate of compliance.

On May 7, the court dismissed Bax’s application for readmission to Queensland’s legal profession under the Legal Profession Act 2007.

In May 1998 the same court, then consisting of since-retired Justices Bruce McPherson, Bill Pincus and Tom Shepherdson, ordered that 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 backdating a mortgage in 1993.

In 2018, Bax sought readmission as a solicitor and applied to the LPAB 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 readmission.

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 awarding the LPAB partial costs on Friday, said: “It may be accepted that the usual rule as to costs following the event is not readily applicable to admission cases, and that the discretion to award costs against an applicant will be exercised sparingly, with the unique role of the Board in mind.

“The Board’s stated policy of not usually seeking costs recognises as much.

“Nonetheless, there will be circumstances in which it is appropriate, in the exercise of the court’s unfettered decision, to make an order for costs in the Board’s favour.

“The present set of circumstances, where the Board was put to unnecessary expense in fulfilling its statutory role by the applicant’s failure to provide relevant material in a timely way, is such a case.”

Justices Mullins and Crowe agreed with the Chief Justice’s decision.

Read the decision.

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