A solicitor who continued to practise law without a certificate despite repeated warnings from regulators has received a three-year suspension for professional misconduct.
Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal President Martin Daubney AM on Thursday 23 September found Brisbane lawyer Edward Ratahi Pene engaged in one count of professional misconduct and three of unsatisfactory professional conduct.
The matter was first referred to the tribunal on 13 October 2020 after Legal Services Commission filed a discipline application against Pene under the Queensland Legal Profession Act 2007 (LPA).
The tribunal was told Pene was admitted as a legal practitioner in January 2008, commenced his own practice as the sole practitioner of Pene Legal in March 2017 and held a principal level practising certificate (PC) which expired on 1 July 2019.
Justice Daubney said that, upon expiration of Pene’s PC, Queensland Law Society wrote to the practitioner advising he no longer held a PC and was required to cease practising immediately.
“On 23 July 2019, the QLS sent another letter to (Pene), in which it again advised him that he did not hold a (PC) and was required to cease practising,” he said.
“On that same day, (Pene) replied to the QLS in an email in which he said he was ‘confused’ and thought that his (PC) was ‘under review’ while a QLS investigation into overdue audit reports was underway.
“On 29 July 2019, (QLS’s Regulation General Manager Craig) Smiley… sent an email to (Pene) advising, amongst other things, that he would have to apply for a new (PC).”
The tribunal was told that, between 31 July and 5 August, Pene engaged in a number of conversations and exchanged correspondence with QLS in which he advised he had continued to practise despite repeated advice to “cease practising immediately”.
“On 15 August 2019, the QLS appointed a receiver to Pene Legal … (and) in the course of conducting the receivership, the receiver uncovered documents which demonstrated that (Pene) had engaged in legal practice by acting in at least one conveyance (matter),” Justice Daubney said.
“(Pene’s) conduct in continuing to practise in the face of express statements by the QLS demonstrated a degree of persistence which reflects on his capacity to make sound judgments.
“Whilst the particular circumstances of this case do not compel a finding that (Pene) is permanently unfit to practise, the tribunal is nevertheless of the view that the gravity of his conduct and the need to ensure protection of the public interest is such as to warrant the imposition of a significant period of effective suspension from practice.”
Justice Daubney ordered Pene not be eligible to obtain a local PC before the end of a three-year period from 1 July 2019.
“After the expiration of the said three-year period, (Pene) is prohibited from applying for, or obtaining, a principal practising certificate for two years after being granted an employee-level practising certificate,” he said.
“At the time of first applying for an employee-level (PC) after the expiration of the said three-year period, (Pene) must provide evidence of successful completion of the Queensland Law Society’s remedial trust account and ethics courses (or equivalent at the time) having been completed within twelve months prior to the application and include a copy of these Reasons with his application.”
Read the decision.