Normally when a lawyer is removed from the roll (‘struck off’) that effectively ends their legal career, as they are permanently ineligible to obtain a practising certificate which would enable them to practice law again. In this case, the unusual history of the matter led to the practitioner being struck off twice.
From 1 April 2009, Michael James Quinn practised as sole practitioner in the firm Q5 Law Proprietary Limited until 4 May 2012 when his practising certificate was cancelled.
In 2015, Quinn was first struck off by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) after failing to appear and contest 64 charges arising from the trust account of Q5 Law Proprietary Limited.
In 2016, Quinn successfully appealed this decision because QCAT had failed to satisfy itself that the charges had been proven pursuant to section 453 of the Legal Profession Act 2007. The Court of Appeal set aside the QCAT orders and ordered a re-hearing.
On 12 October 2017 Quinn was convicted after trial by a District Court jury of one count of fraud with a circumstance of aggravation contrary to section 408C of the Criminal Code for trust account defalcations of Q5 Law Proprietary Limited. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, with immediate suspension and an operational period of two years.
The Legal Services Commissioner applied to QCAT for another order that Quinn be struck off for the trust account defalcations conviction as well as unlawful drawing of trust moneys, retention of trust moneys in a general account contrary and a failure to keep records as required by the Legal Profession Act 2007.
Section 408C of the Criminal Code provides that:
“(1) A person who dishonestly
(a) applies to his or her own use or to the use of any person
(i) property belonging to another; or
(ii) property belonging to the person, or which is in the person’s possession, either solely or jointly with another person, subject to a trust, direction or condition or on account of any other person; or
(b) obtains property from any person; or
(c) induces any person to deliver property to any person; or
(d) gains a benefit or advantage, pecuniary or otherwise, for any person; or
(e) causes a detriment, pecuniary or otherwise, to any person; or
(f) induces any person to do any act which the person is lawfully entitled to abstain from doing; or
(g) induces any person to abstain from doing any act which that person is lawfully entitled to do; or
(h) makes off, knowing that payment on the spot is required or expected for any property lawfully supplied or returned or for any service lawfully provided, without having paid and with intent to avoid payment;
commits the crime of fraud.”
Section 419 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 states as follows:
419 Meaning of professional misconduct
(1)”Professional misconduct” includes
(a) unsatisfactory professional conduct of an Australian legal practitioner, if the conduct involves a substantial or consistent failure to reach or keep a reasonable standard of competence and diligence; and
(b) conduct of an Australian legal practitioner, whether happening in connection with the practice of law or happening otherwise than in connection with the practice of law that would, if established, justify a finding that the practitioner is not a fit and proper person to engage in legal practice.
Section 452 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 states as follows:
“Starting proceeding before a disciplinary body
(1) The commissioner may apply—
(a) to the tribunal for an order against an Australian legal practitioner in relation to a complaint against the legal practitioner or an investigation matter.”
Section 453 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 states as follows:
The disciplinary body must hear and decide each allegation stated in the discipline application.”
Section 456 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 relevantly provides as follows:
“456 Decisions of tribunal about an Australian legal practitioner
(1) If, after the tribunal has completed a hearing of a discipline application in relation to a complaint or an investigation matter against an Australian legal practitioner, the tribunal is satisfied that the practitioner has engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct, the tribunal may make any order as it thinks fit, including any 1 or more of the orders stated in this section.
(2) The tribunal may, under this subsection, make 1 or more of the following in a way it considers appropriate—
(a) an order recommending that the name of the Australian legal practitioner be removed from the local roll;
(b) an order that the practitioner’s local practising certificate be suspended for a stated period or cancelled;
(c) an order that a local practising certificate not be granted to the practitioner before the end of a stated period.”
The charges and the facts supporting them were expressly admitted by Quinn.
As QCAT Member Justice Daubney noted, Quinn’s conduct clearly amounted to professional misconduct because it involved both a substantial and a consistent failure over a period of 16 months to keep reasonable standards of competence and diligence, and also justified a finding that the practitioner is not a fit and proper person to engage in legal practice. This was notwithstanding the fact that no client of Quinn’s had suffered any loss.
Justice Daubney then made the following observations:
“It is trite to observe that the clients of solicitors must be able to expect absolute probity from solicitors in relation to dealings with moneys held in trust. Various terms have been used to describe the level of that probity. Those terms have elevated the extent of that probity to levels such as it being a sacred trust. Whatever words one uses, the inherent relationship between a solicitor and their client must be founded on trust, and a necessary practical manifestation of that trust must be the absolute probity with which solicitors both theoretically and in practice approach their dealings with moneys that have been entrusted to them by or on behalf of clients.”
Due to the relative currency of Quinn’s conviction, the serious nature of the offending and the fact that that offending occurred in the course of his conduct of a legal practice, Justice Daubney determined that the appropriate sanction was removal from the roll.
Justice Daubney consequently ordered that Quinn’s name again be removed from the roll and that he pay the Commissioner’s costs.
This case is one of many that shows that trust account defalcations are a serious matter, and in cases where there are numerous or serious defalcations a solicitor can be struck off for them, even when their own clients are not left worse off.
Quinn’s win in the Court of Appeal, in which he managed to have an order that he be removed from the roll overturned, was a temporary victory. A subsequent fraud conviction in relation to some of the same trust accounting issues for which he had been struck off at first instance ensured that he would be struck off again.Posted on Categories Criminal law, Professional discipline