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Assessing the character of barristers and solicitors

Assessing the character of candidates wanting to be admitted as barristers and solicitors of the High Court

Having received many inquiries in the last week from the public, lawyers and the media, the New Zealand Law Society believes it would be helpful to outline the process and character requirements for someone who wants to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand.

The Law Society does not comment on specific matters or specific individuals, but it is happy to comment generally about the admission process relating to character.

The role of the Law Society in the admissions process is to assess the character of the candidate. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 requires that to be admitted, the candidate must be a “fit and proper person”. The considerations for deciding whether someone is a fit and proper person are set out in section 55 of the Act (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2006/0001/latest/DLM365774.html). Under the former Law Practitioners Act 1982 (which was in force until 1 August 2008) the relevant section was contained in Part III. The 1982 Act process was managed by district law societies, which ceased to have any regulatory powers in August 2008.

A candidate for admission is required to complete an application form for a certificate of character. The application form is on the Law Society’s website at http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/6241/Certificate-of-Character-Application-form.pdf

If the candidate declares that they have been convicted of a crime other than one concealed by the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2004/0036/latest/DLM280840.html) they will be required to provide full details of the matter. It is likely the candidate would be interviewed and an assessment made as to whether they were fit and proper for admission. A criminal conviction history check is also carried out for everyone who applies.

The candidate must also disclose current or pending charges and “any other matters the New Zealand Law Society should be aware of in considering your application”.

If a lawyer was admitted without disclosing a crime which subsequently came to light it would be expected that at the next renewal of their practising certificate they would declare the matter then. All lawyers are required to renew their practising certificates at 1 July each year and all are required to make a declaration that nothing has occurred in the past year that might affect their fitness to practise. If a past crime was disclosed or discovered at the time of practising certificate renewals, a similar process to that set out above would take place and inquiries would be made prior to the lawyer’s application for renewal of their practising certificate being granted. Most likely the renewal application would be referred to the Law Society’s Practice Approval Committee for investigation.

Once they have been admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court, a person remains on the Roll of Barristers and Solicitors. Many people who are on the Roll do not have practising certificates. If the person was not practising but remained on the Roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court when a matter came to light, consideration would be given as to whether the potential crime reached the threshold in s 7(1)(b)(ii) of the Act (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2006/0001/latest/DLM365705.html). In addition the Court has an inherent jurisdiction over lawyers under section 266 of the Act (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2006/0001/latest/DLM367326.html). This means that an application could be made to the High Court to strike a person’s name off the Roll “for reasonable cause”.

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