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.
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.
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  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.
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.
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.Posted on