A Brisbane man jailed for misrepresenting himself as a lawyer and offering legal advice has had his sentence reduced by three months on appeal.
Stephen Oluboyede Arulogun, who has never been admitted to the legal profession in Australia, was sentenced last month in Brisbane to 12 months in prison, with parole release after four months, after pleading guilty to 65 charges brought against him by the Legal Services Commission (LSC).
The charges were offences against the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld): 32 counts of engaging in legal practice when not entitled to; 32 counts of representing or advertising that he was entitled to engage in law practice when not entitled to; and one count as a director of Talus Services Pty Ltd in that he implied that the company trading as PEF Capital was entitled to engage in legal practice and so, was an incorporated legal practice.
Counsel for Arulogun appealed the sentence the District Court in Brisbane on Monday, and today Justice Smith allowed the appeal and reduced the prison term to nine months.
At the sentencing on October 13, the court was told that in December 2021 the LSC had applied for an injunction against Arulogun, to bar him from engaging in legal practice. The application was dismissed upon Arulogun giving undertakings that he would not engage in legal practice or advertise that he could, while not qualified.
The application related to claims made on Arulogun’s profile on the website Airtasker, that:
(a) he was an industrial relations, regulations and commercial consultant;
(b) he held professional indemnity insurance to provide litigation process, commercial, IR and HR and government regulation consulting; and
(c) he could provide workplace relations and employment advice from $50.
Arulogun subsequently deactivated his Airtasker profile, but had already earned about $8126 from his unlawful conduct.
The prosecution had submitted that 15 to 18 months’ imprisonment with a period of actual custody to be served was appropriate. The defence had submitted a global fine of $10,000 with 150 hours’ community service was appropriate.
In deciding the appeal, Judge Smith pointed to aggravating features of Arulogun’s conduct, including the number of charges; the offending being “deliberate, sophisticated and systemic”; and that Arulogun had a criminal history that included fraud in 2005 and drug offences in 2012, for which he served six months in prison.
“Public confidence in the legal system is paramount. Where individuals engage in legal practice without the oversight of the Queensland Law Society, real concerns are held about the integrity and quality of the advice and representation provided. There is a potential for substantial loss being occasioned by flawed advice,” he said.
“In this case, the appellant was providing advice in relation to a wide variety of matters varying in complexity including corporate and commercial law, contract law, family law and employment law.
“The various clients relied upon his advice believing he was a lawyer and that he was appropriately qualified and insured to make important decisions.
“Rogue practitioners operating without the safety net of insurance expose themselves and their clients to unnecessary risk which is the precise risk the legislature is seeking to deter.
“In all of the circumstances, community protection, personal deterrence and general deterrence loomed large in this case.”
Judge Smith said a prison term was the only appropriate sentencing option in this case.
“In my view, had there been a trial and subsequent conviction, the starting point would have been in the order of 12 months imprisonment, to serve half,” he said.
“The appellant however did plead guilty and saved the cost of a five-day trial. That is a significant cost saving. Pleas of guilty are to be encouraged by the courts.
“He had also remained out of trouble for close to two years before the sentence. This fact has some impact on both the head sentence and the period to be served.
“In my view, a head sentence of nine months’ imprisonment is appropriate with the appellant being required to serve three months.”
Arulogun’s parole release date is now 11 January 2024.