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Reasons for Nicola Gobbo’s removal from the roll of lawyers published

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THE FACTS

Former Victorian criminal barrister Nicola Gobbo represented a number of high-profile clients during her career at the bar. It was later discovered that she had also been acting as a police informant, and was using confidential information obtained from her clients to assist police in obtaining evidence. This revelation sparked a royal commission in Victoria, and Gobbo’s evidence at the royal commission suggested her motivation for this extraordinary course of conduct was to feel valued.

Gobbo had not held a practising certificate since 2014.

Some of Gobbo’s clients have subsequently applied to set aside their own convictions given that Gobbo had informed on them.

On 7 October 2020, proceedings were commenced by the Victorian Legal Services Board in the Victorian Supreme Court to remove Gobbo from the roll of practitioners.

An agreed statements of facts tendered pursuant to s 191 of the Evidence Act 2008 (Vic) revealed that the application for removal from the roll related to Gobbo acting for six different clients, but that prior to this, Gobbo’s affidavit sworn for the purpose of admission to practice did not disclose an ongoing association beyond September 1993 with her housemate who was also charged with drug offences, or that further charges that had been brought against him.

Lawyers Weekly recently reported that Nicola Gobbo had been removed from the roll of practitioners due to her role as a police informant against her own clients.

BARRISTERS’ CONDUCT RULES

The Barristers’ Conduct Rules relevantly provides as follows:

12. A barrister must not engage in conduct which is:

(a) dishonest or otherwise discreditable to a barrister;

(b) prejudicial to the administration of justice; or

(c) likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute.

13.A barrister must not engage in another vocation which:

(a) is liable to adversely affect the reputation of the legal profession or the barrister’s own reputation;

(b) is likely to impair or conflict with the barrister’s duties to clients; or

(c) prejudices a barrister’s ability to attend properly to the interests of the barrister’s clients.

108. A barrister must not disclose (except as compelled by law) or use in any way confidential information obtained by the barrister in the course of practice concerning any person to whom the barrister owes some duty or obligation to keep such information confidential unless or until: (a) the information is later obtained by the barrister from another person who is not bound by the confidentiality owed by the barrister to the first person and who does not give the information confidentially to the barrister; or (b) the person has consented to the barrister disclosing or using the information generally or on specific terms; or (c) the barrister discloses the information in a confidential setting, for the sole purpose of obtaining advice in connection with the barrister’s legal or ethical obligations.

Removal from the roll

In Ziems v The Prothonotary of The Supreme Court of N.S.W. (1957) 97 CLR 279, Kitto observed that:

“The issue is whether the appellant is shown not to be a fit and proper person to be a member of the Bar of New South Wales. It is not capable of more precise statement. The answer must depend upon one’s conception of the minimum standards demanded by a due recognition of the peculiar position and functions of a barrister in a system which treats the Bar as in fact, whether or not it is also in law, a separate and distinct branch of the legal profession. It has been said before, and in this case the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has said again, that the Bar is no ordinary profession or occupation. These are not empty words, nor is it their purpose to express or encourage professional pretensions. They should be understood as a reminder that a barrister is more than his client’s confidant, adviser and advocate, and must therefore possess more than honesty, learning and forensic ability. He is, by virtue of a long tradition, in a relationship of intimate collaboration with the judges, as well as with his fellow-members of the Bar, in the high task of endeavouring to make successful the service of the law to the community. That is a delicate relationship, and it carries exceptional privileges and exceptional obligations. If a barrister is found to be, for any reason, an unsuitable person to share in the enjoyment of those privileges and in the effective discharge of those responsibilities, he is not a fit and proper person to remain at the Bar.”

As was observed in Victorian Legal Services Commissioner v Horak [2016] VSC 780 (15 December 2016):

“In order to exercise its discretion to remove a practitioner from the roll, the Court must be satisfied at the time of the hearing that the practitioner is not a fit and proper person to be a legal practitioner, and is likely to remain so for the indefinite future.”

Breaching client confidentiality has been held to amount to professional misconduct in Queensland. The practitioner in that case was removed from the roll for disclosing the confidential information on national television.

SUPREME COURT DECISION

Justice Jacinta Forbes QC of the Supreme Court of Victoria removed Ms Gobbo from the roll of lawyers in that state. This decision was made with Gobbo’s consent. The reasons have now been published.

Forbes J quoted the High Court’s conclusions in AB (a pseudonym) v CD (a pseudonym); EF (a pseudonym) v CD (a pseudonym) (2019) 362 ALR 1 with respect to Gobbo’s conduct:

“[Gobbo’s] actions in purporting to act as counsel for the Convicted Persons while covertly informing against them were fundamental and appalling breaches of [Gobbo’s]’s obligations as counsel to her clients and of [Gobbo’s]’s duties to the court.”

Forbes J concurred with those observations, and held that Gobbo’s conduct “demonstrated partiality and so lacked honesty”.

Forbes J held that whilst the content and omissions in the affidavit sworn for the purpose of admission to practice might not standing alone warrant removal from the roll, Gobbo’s later conduct as a barrister meant that “her position is not capable of rehabilitation”.

For these reasons, Gobbo was not a fit and proper person and had to be removed from the roll (struck off). This means she will never practice as a lawyer again.

CONCLUSION

It is hard to think of a more serious breach of a lawyer’s duties to their client than informing on them to the police. Nicola Gobbo committed this gross breach of trust on numerous occasions over a course of years. The result was legal pandemonium in Victoria that will take years to be resolved. Public confidence in the administration of justice in Victoria is also likely to have been impacted. In addition, there was non-disclosure of material facts in her application for admission to the legal profession. For all of these reasons, a striking off order was the logical outcome.

Things to do at the scene of a car accident

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Getting in a car crash can be a jolting experience. But it’s important to be proactive and think about what to do in the immediate aftermath.

WHAT TO DO AFTER THE CRASH

Here’s what you need to do at the scene of an accident.

1. Relocate to a Safer Location

If you end up in an accident with non-serious injuries, try to focus on making sure you are aware of your surroundings. The last thing you want to do is to jump out of your car and risk causing another accident with surrounding traffic.

If your car is operable, try to pull it to the shoulder or off the road altogether. If it isn’t moving, then be sure to turn your hazard lights on to assist oncoming traffic. Next, you can start moving towards the other vehicle(s) involved.

2. Approach the other driver and witnesses

Once you’re okay, check on all other parties present at the scene of the accident. Assess the situation, and determine whether an ambulance should be called.

Don’t ignore symptoms like dizziness, slurred speech, or minor neck/back pains. There is no telling if a fracture or concussion could have occurred.

Most of all, don’t approach anyone in an aggressive or combative manner. Even if you are 100% correct and bear no responsibility for the accident. Being angry only creates an unsafe environment. You might even risk the driver fleeing the scene of the accident without any info.

3. Call the Police

No matter how small the accident may appear, you are going to want to have police there to faithfully record what they are told soon after the accident and what they observed.

Avoid accidentally incriminating yourself when giving your statements. Be factual and let the police officer do their job with investigating the scene. If no police can come or if nobody calls at the scene, you can file an accident report later on.

It’s important that the accident gets recorded into police records and helps legitimize your side as well.

4. Gathering Information

You should gather your own evidence as soon as practicable.

Take photographs of the damage points and locations of the vehicles involved in the accident ASAP. This can be very useful if there is later a dispute about how the accident occurred. Upload your photos and video to cloud storage for added security.

Write down or record the following information relevant to the accident:

– Drivers and passenger info

– Drivers and passenger info

– License plate numbers

– Insurance details

– Vehicle details

– Contact info for any eyewitnesses

– Location and circumstances leading to accident

5. See your GP Right Away

As mentioned previously, many injuries aren’t apparent or obvious after an accident. In fact, it could take days or weeks before a serious injury is discovered, well after you’ve filed your insurance claim.

Go see a doctor and make sure they know about any tenderness you’re feeling, especially regarding the spine or neck. If you wait too long or downplay these minor injuries, you could end up in worse shape from a hidden hairline fracture or embolism, for example.

Furthermore, obtaining a medical certificate is required in order to commence a claim for personal injuries arising from the motor vehicle accident. Be sure to include all injuries so that it cannot be doubted that you complained of them at the very first opportunity.

6. Make an Insurance Claim for property damage

Even if you’re not at fault, if you are insured you can and should make a claim with your insurance company for property damage to your vehicle and to cover any potential liability arising from the accident.

You may be required to pay excess to your insurer, but you’ll normally get it back if you are found to not be at fault.

Your insurer may also be able to reimburse you for your expenses and provide you with a hire car while your vehicle is being repaired. Read your insurer’s product disclosure statement, or ask them directly what they can provide you.

CONCLUSION

Whilst people almost never plan to have a motor vehicle crash, when it happens you need to be alert to the legal and medical issues that may be involved. It is important to immediately and check on everyone’s safety and well-being, and then gather information and evidence. You should then report the accident to the police and your insurance company. Remember that motor vehicle accidents can give rise to criminal and civil liability, and can also determine whether you are entitled to seek damages.

Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the US Supreme Court

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Black-letter lawyer and eminent judge Amy Coney Barrett has been appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

After an evening vote in the Senate which saw her confirmed 52 to 48, Justice Barrett was sworn in at the White House, making her the sixth conservative-leaning justice on the nine-member bench and Donald Trump’s third appointment to America’s highest court.

The Australian comments that:

“Justice Coney Barrett, 48, is widely admired as a highly qualified, constitutional conservative, someone Democrats regard as a potential threat on legal challenges to Obamacare, abortion law, same-sex marriage and environment law. But her decision-making as a judge is likely to be guided by the fact she is an originalist and a textualist. She interprets the constitution as it was written and legislation as it is written. At her swearing in she pledged to “do my job without any fear or favour … independently of both the political branches, and of my own preferences”.”

 

As Greg Sheridan notes, she is a judge who will apply the law, not legislate from the bench as some of the liberal judges do:

“She is an originalist and a textualist. She interprets the constitution as it was written and she interprets legislation as it is written.

In practice this means she is extremely unlikely to use the court as a mechanism for legislating social policy and conformity to contemporary social ideas on the basis of discovering new meanings in the constitution or stretching the meaning of legislation.

That does not mean she will always rule in favour of the Trump administration or in favour of politically conservative causes.”

 

Nicola Gobbo aka Lawyer X removed from the roll of lawyers

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THE FACTS

Former Victorian criminal barrister Nicola Gobbo represented a number of high-profile clients during her career at the bar. It was later discovered that she had also been acting as a police informant, and was using confidential information obtained from her clients to assist police in obtaining evidence. This revelation sparked a royal commission in Victoria, and Gobbo’s evidence at the royal commission suggested her motivation for this extraordinary course of conduct was to feel valued.

Gobbo has not held a practising certificate since 2014.

Some of Gobbo’s clients have subsequently applied to set aside their own convictions given that Gobbo had informed on them.

Recently, proceedings were commenced in the Victorian Supreme Court to remove Gobbo from the roll of practitioners.

Lawyers Weekly now reports that Nicola Gobbo has been removed from the roll of practitioners due to her role as a police informant against her own clients.

BARRISTERS’ CONDUCT RULES

The Barristers’ Conduct Rules relevantly provides as follows:

12. A barrister must not engage in conduct which is:

(a) dishonest or otherwise discreditable to a barrister;

(b) prejudicial to the administration of justice; or

(c) likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute.

13.A barrister must not engage in another vocation which:

(a) is liable to adversely affect the reputation of the legal profession or the barrister’s own reputation;

(b) is likely to impair or conflict with the barrister’s duties to clients; or

(c) prejudices a barrister’s ability to attend properly to the interests of the barrister’s clients.

108. A barrister must not disclose (except as compelled by law) or use in any way confidential information obtained by the barrister in the course of practice concerning any person to whom the barrister owes some duty or obligation to keep such information confidential unless or until: (a) the information is later obtained by the barrister from another person who is not bound by the confidentiality owed by the barrister to the first person and who does not give the information confidentially to the barrister; or (b) the person has consented to the barrister disclosing or using the information generally or on specific terms; or (c) the barrister discloses the information in a confidential setting, for the sole purpose of obtaining advice in connection with the barrister’s legal or ethical obligations.

Removal from the roll

In Ziems v The Prothonotary of The Supreme Court of N.S.W. (1957) 97 CLR 279, Kitto observed that:

“The issue is whether the appellant is shown not to be a fit and proper person to be a member of the Bar of New South Wales. It is not capable of more precise statement. The answer must depend upon one’s conception of the minimum standards demanded by a due recognition of the peculiar position and functions of a barrister in a system which treats the Bar as in fact, whether or not it is also in law, a separate and distinct branch of the legal profession. It has been said before, and in this case the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has said again, that the Bar is no ordinary profession or occupation. These are not empty words, nor is it their purpose to express or encourage professional pretensions. They should be understood as a reminder that a barrister is more than his client’s confidant, adviser and advocate, and must therefore possess more than honesty, learning and forensic ability. He is, by virtue of a long tradition, in a relationship of intimate collaboration with the judges, as well as with his fellow-members of the Bar, in the high task of endeavouring to make successful the service of the law to the community. That is a delicate relationship, and it carries exceptional privileges and exceptional obligations. If a barrister is found to be, for any reason, an unsuitable person to share in the enjoyment of those privileges and in the effective discharge of those responsibilities, he is not a fit and proper person to remain at the Bar.”

The test is whether it is probable that a legal practitioner is permanently unfit to remain a lawyer. Conduct of a serious nature can demonstrate that this the case. As Daubney J noted in Legal Services Commissioner v Meehan [2019] QCAT 17:

“It is the view of this Tribunal that the nature and extent of the respondent’s dishonest wrongdoing in the course of his professional practice, and his convictions for the criminal offences arising from that conduct, are such as to provide “instant demonstration of unfitness”. They bespeak a character tainted by dishonesty.”

Breaching client confidentiality has been held to amount to professional misconduct in Queensland. The practitioner in that case was removed from the roll for disclosing the confidential information on national television.

SUPREME COURT DECISION

In orders made without reasons yesterday, the Supreme Court of Victoria’s Justice Jacinta Forbes QC has removed Ms Gobbo from the roll of persons admitted to the legal profession kept by the court. This decision was made with Gobbo’s consent.

This means she will never practice as a lawyer again.

CONCLUSION

It is hard to think of a more serious breach of a lawyer’s duties to their client than informing on them to the police. Nicola Gobbo committed this gross breach of trust on numerous occasions over a course of years. The result was legal pandemonium in Victoria that will take years to be resolved. Public confidence in the administration of justice in Victoria is also likely to have been impacted. For all of these reasons, a striking off order is a logical outcome.

Bradley Robert Edwards found guilty of two of the three Claremont killings

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DNA testing in recent decades has miraculously proven the guilty of the guilty and acquitted the innocent, often many years after the fact. In California, it revealed the identity of the Golden State Killer, and resulted in his convictions for his murderous crimes. The case of the Claremont murders is the latest example of crimes catching up to killers long afterwards, all thanks to DNA.

The Claremont killer
THE FACTS

The murders

On 27 January 1996, a secretary aged 18 named Sarah Spiers disappeared after leaving Club Bay View in Claremont and calling a taxi from a nearby phone booth. Her body was never found.

On 9 June 1996, Jane Rimmer, a 23 year old childcare worker, was last seen alive outside Claremont’s Continental Hotel on 3 August 1996, Her body was found in bushland at Wellard in Perth’s south on March 15, 1997.

Ciara Glennon, a solicitor aged 27, was last seen in Claremont after visiting the Continental Hotel on 3 April 1997. Her body was later found in bushland at Eglinton in Perth’s north.

A male driver, either in a Telstra vehicle or identifying himself as a Telstra worker, had been seen giving lifts to women in Claremont or neighbouring Cottesloe.

Continue reading “Bradley Robert Edwards found guilty of two of the three Claremont killings”

James Loel stays on the roll after QCAT disciplinary decision

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Queensland solicitor James Loel has avoided a strike-off order after it was found that he had engaged in professional misconduct on five occasions, and engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct eight times.

The rehabilitation he had undertaken since the offending conduct and his acceptance of the conduct were significant factors which weighed in his favour.

The full decision can be accessed here: http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/qld/QCAT/2020/326.html

Recalling the infamous “Order me a f*&%ing pizza while you’re at it” incident

Posted on Categories Criminal law Tags , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments on Recalling the infamous “Order me a f*&3ing pizza while you’re at it” incident

Background

David Allan Baker had been charged with attempted murder and had sacked his barrister and solicitors on an earlier occasion when his trial came on for hearing.

Baker’s trial was set to commence before Justice Martin Daubney on 4 June 2012, but the day before he again sacked his legal representatives and the matter came on before the court on an application by his second set of legal representatives for leave to withdraw after he had dispensed with their services. Continue reading “Recalling the infamous “Order me a f*&%ing pizza while you’re at it” incident”

Neil Andrew Pentland found not guilty of murder of Philip Carlyle

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After a lengthy judge-only trial, Pentland was acquitted.

Neil Andrew Pentland
THE FACTS

In 1996, Neil Pentland and his wife Dianne set up a company called ATNET Pty Ltd. Pentland was a director and the secretary of the company. The shares were held by him and his wife. The initial operation of the company involved assisting clients to set up email accounts and with basic internet functions. Mr Carlyle was employed by the company as its marketing manager from late 1996. He was not a shareholder but there was an agreement which would have allowed him to buy 30% of the company’s shares for $30,000 at a later time.

Philip Carlyle was murdered on 13 April 1997. He had been lured, or coerced, into a small, sound-proofed plant room in an office building at Robina. He was then shot in the head and neck with four .32 calibre steel jacket bullets. The weapon used to kill Mr Carlyle has never been found.
Continue reading “Neil Andrew Pentland found not guilty of murder of Philip Carlyle”

Bangalow lawyer loses appeal against successful sexual harassment suit

Posted on Categories Industrial relations, Professional discipline Tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments on Bangalow lawyer loses appeal against successful sexual harassment suit

Former solicitor Owen Hughes, who likened himself to “a sleek kangaroo” and novelist Jane Austen’s noble brooder Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, has lost his appeal against a judgment for sexual harassment he perpetrated against an employee.

Hughes

This blog had previously reported on the Owen Hughes sexual harassment case brought by a former employee of his law practice.

The facts

Junior/trainee solicitor Catherine Mia Hill began working with Owen Hughes’ Bangalow based law firm Beesley and Hughes Lawyers in May 2015. Soon after,  Hughes offered to represent her in a mediation for her own family law matter, and she agreed.

A couple of months later, Hughes started his course of sexual harassment by sending Hill emails telling her that he thought she was attractive, and he wanted to be in a relationship with her.

Continue reading “Bangalow lawyer loses appeal against successful sexual harassment suit”

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