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Significant Suspension Imposed For Misconduct

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has received the independent Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal’s reserved penalty decision imposing a two-year suspension and costs of over $100,000 on James Gardner-Hopkins for findings of misconduct. “While a sterner penalty was sought by the Standards Committee, it is a significant term of suspension,” said Tiana Epati of the Law Society.

“The Standards Committee submitted permanent strike off was appropriate. The Tribunal weighed matters and decided a two-year suspension was the appropriate outcome in all the circumstances. We acknowledge the Tribunal heard all the evidence first-hand and carefully considered the serious nature of the offending with the need for rehabilitation.

“The penalty imposed does not mean Mr Gardner-Hopkins will automatically be able to work as a lawyer after two years. Following suspension, he will need to apply to a Law Society practice approval committee for a new practising certificate. The onus is squarely on him to prove he is fit and proper to be a lawyer again. The Tribunal offered some comment on that process,” Ms Epati said.

While suspended, Mr Gardner-Hopkins cannot offer legal services of any kind as a lawyer to the public.

Ms Epati said the Law Society wants to acknowledge the length of time it has taken, from when the investigation started in 2018, to get to today.

“Our complaints process was, by design, focused on issues relating to consumers of legal services. Coupled with the pandemic, and resourcing constraints, there was delay in having a fully contested matter heard. We have already made changes to our process to make it more suitable for sensitive complaints, like this one.

“We have adopted the recommendations from the inquiry undertaken by Dame Sylvia Cartwright, including mandatory reporting of misconduct, clearer behavioural standards, and a “whistle-blower” protection. It is now firmly the responsibility of those in senior positions who supervise other lawyers to ensure this type of behaviour does not happen and report it if it does.” These new rules came into force on 1 July 2021.

“Other changes to ensure the complaints system can be more agile, more victim focused and transparent require amendments to our legislation. We raised this with the Government and late last year the Minister requested the Law Society consult with the wider legal profession on this,” she said.

The current law prohibits the Law Society from saying anything about or even confirming complaints involving sexual violence, harassment, bullying, and discrimination. The Law Society believes this needs to change to provide transparency and increased accountability.

Ms Epati said this case has already been the catalyst for real and enduring change. “As Dame Sylvia Cartwright said, 2018 was a watershed moment for the culture of the legal profession. In its censure the Tribunal stated that Mr Gardner-Hopkins has brought shame on himself and brought disrepute to the legal profession.

“There is now a collective consciousness about this type of behaviour. It must not be allowed to fade and the current momentum to improve the profession must be maintained, Tiana Epati said.”

Read the decision on the Tribunal’s website

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