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QCAT strikes off solicitor for practising without a PC

In Legal Services Commissioner v Doyle [2021] QCAT 347, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) considered whether the conduct of the respondent warranted removing him from the solicitors’ roll.

Background

The respondent faced four charges, including engaging in legal practice when not entitled, representing or advertising an entitlement to engage in legal practice when not entitled, and making dishonest and incorrect representations.

The specifics of those charges were:

  • Charge 1 – the respondent engaged in legal practice without holding a practising certificate. The respondent had applied for a practising certificate, which had not been issued due to the respondent’s failure to make payment for the certificate and professional indemnity insurance. Nevertheless, the respondent engaged in legal practice in sending correspondence including an ‘offer to settle’ on a letterhead with a signature block which represented that he was a principal of Martin Doyle Law.
  • Charge 2 – the respondent represented or advertised an entitlement to engage in legal practice on his website, when not entitled to.
  • Charge 3 – the respondent purported to act for one party, Aaron Robinson, and dishonestly represented to another party, Holly Robinson, that a court date had been set, when no application had been filed and there was no such hearing date.
  • Charge 4 – the respondent failed to maintain reasonable standards of competence and diligence by:
  • wrongly stating in a letter that it was a general requirement under law for an executor to reside in Queensland, when there is no such requirement
  • representing in a meeting that the respondent was going to bring applications which were not legally available in the circumstances, and
  • representing in the same meeting that he had spent “around 20 grand costs already” on the matter, which was false.

Issues

The issue for QCAT was whether the conduct constituted unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct, and the appropriate orders.

Issues considered

The respondent, in his submissions to QCAT, characterised the conduct as assisting a friend in legal trouble over a six-to-eight week period where he did not have a practising certificate. The tribunal considered, however, that his conduct involved not only practising without a practising certificate, but also dishonesty, misleading statements, unethical dealings, and actions that displayed incompetence and unacceptable threats to a lay person.1

At paragraph [37], the tribunal said:

“Had Mr Doyle behaved in a courteous, honest and competent way in that six-to-eight-week period when assisting a friend, particularly given the long delay in the prosecution of these charges and its impact on him, then there would be some considerable force in his submission that he has learnt his lesson and an adequate response to the charges would be a reprimand. But that is not the situation.”

Looking at the totality of the respondent’s conduct, the tribunal concluded that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct.2 The tribunal noted that the respondent failed to demonstrate sufficient insight into the gravity of his conduct, and consistently challenged the charges, including by maintaining his innocence regarding charges 3 and 4 until the morning of the hearing.3

While the tribunal acknowledged the respondent’s 10 years of blameless practice, it ultimately determined that the only order which would sufficiently protect the public and the reputation of the legal profession was a recommendation that the respondent’s name be removed from the roll.4

The tribunal then considered the matter of costs. It noted the three-year delay in prosecuting the proceedings, which had devastating impacts on the respondent. The Legal Services Commissioner failed to provide sufficient justification for the lengthy delay, and the tribunal considered that the delay constituted exceptional circumstances justifying refusing an order for costs against the respondent.5

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 Legal Services Commissioner v Doyle [2021] QCAT 347, [35].
2 Ibid [41]-[42].
3 Ibid [33].
4 Ibid [50]-[51].
5 Ibid [54]-[56].

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