QCAT confirms refusal to renew practising certificate

In Castle v Queensland Law Society [2021] QCAT 300, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal considered a decision by Queensland Law Society to refuse to renew an applicant’s practising certificate.

Background

The applicant was admitted as a legal practitioner in Queensland in 2007. He was the legal practitioner director and sole principal of an incorporated legal practice, DMC Legal Services Pty Ltd trading as Brereton Lawyer (Brereton Lawyers), which operated from 4 March 2016 to 13 April 2018.

On 24 May 2019, the applicant applied to QLS to renew his practising certificate and sought an employee practising certificate. QLS determined that the applicant was not a fit and proper person to hold a practising certificate, and decided not to renew the applicant’s practising certificate.

The applicant appealed the QLS decision to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).

Issues

QCAT reheard the matter with a view of determining the correct and preferable decision. In its review, QCAT considered whether the applicant was a fit and proper person to continue to hold a practising certificate, having regard to:

  • whether QLS would be justified in holding out that the applicant was a fit and proper person to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of a solicitor, and
  • whether the applicant was of “good fame and character”, which involves, amongst other things, the acceptance of high standards of conduct and acting in accordance with them under pressure.1

Issues considered

QCAT noted a range of behaviour by the applicant that led to the QLS refusal decision, including contraventions of the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) and Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012, such as:

  • breaches of the applicant’s trust account obligations, including submitting external examiner’s reports outside the prescribed timeframe, and failing to adequately explain substantial trust account anomalies
  • failing to renew his practising certificate, resulting in at least two periods in which the applicant practised without a practising certificate and without professional indemnity insurance
  • failing to provide QLS with information within the prescribed time periods and when requested by QLS, and
  • numerous instances of communications by the applicant to QLS officers which were inappropriate, insulting and unprofessional.2

QCAT considered additional circumstances which had come to light since QLS made its decision to refuse the applicant’s application to renew his practising certificate, particularly the applicant’s failure to keep client documents and trust records secured. Notably, QCAT considered the applicant’s “breathtakingly cavalier attitude to Brereton Lawyers’ safe custody documents”.3

The applicant had stored many of the safe custody documents of Brereton Lawyers, including wills and certificate of titles, in an unsecured storage cage in the basement car park of an apartment complex where the applicant’s father lived.4 QCAT held that:

“…the applicant’s treatment of the firm’s safe custody documents bespeaks an attitude of complete indifference to the best interests of his former clients. His conduct in that instance alone is an indictment on his character. A person who can act with such disregard for the best interests of clients is not a person in whom the Courts, the profession, and the public, can have confidence in as a legal professional.”5

This, together with the applicant’s “careless approach to the proper maintenance of his firm’s trust account”6 and his cavalier approach to regulatory compliance, resulted in QCAT being ultimately satisfied that the decision of QLS to refuse the applicant’s application to renew his practising certificate was the correct and preferable decision and dismissed the application for review.7

Irene Gallagher is a Law Graduate Intern at Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre. This article has been approved by Grace van Baarle, Solicitor and Manager, QLS Ethics and Practice Centre.

Footnotes
1 Castle v Queensland Law Society [2021] QCAT 300, [16] applying Purdie v Queensland Law Society [2021] QCAT 291, [19].
2 Castle v Queensland Law Society [2021] QCAT 300, [24]-[25].
3 Ibid [28].
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid [44].
6 Ibid [45].
7 Ibid [45]-[47].

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