Solicitor Serene Teffaha has been fighting against the government’s removal of civil liberties under the guise of COVID for some time, recently filing a class action lawsuit against Melbourne’s controversial public housing lockdown in an effort to stand up for the rights of more than 3,000 tenants.
But in a move that has angered many across the nation, the Victorian Legal Services Board (VLSB) cancelled Ms Teffaha’s practising certificate on 14 April.
Legal Services Board cancels licence as class action is filed
The legal watchdog says it warned Ms Teffaha in March that it could cancel her practising certificate.
The warning came at around the same time the lawyer filed the class action against human rights violations involved in the “hard lockdown” of Melbourne’s public housing tenants.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of tenants from nine North Melbourne and Fitzroy public housing towers, who were placed under lockdown without prior notice ostensibly due to concerns over COVID-19. Five hundred police officers were deployed to ensure the residents didn’t exit their flats.
The spotlight shone on Ms Teffaha last year as she became an active anti-lockdown advocate. The website of her Preston law firm, Advocate Me, outlines that it had proposed to launch further class actions, involving mandatory vaccinations and prohibitions on members of the medical profession from expressing their concerns about vaccines.
In a speech at an anti-lockdown protest in Broadmeadows last December, the lawyer rallied against “the corrupt legal profession” and “corrupt judges”. She further maintained that mask wearing was unnecessary, and healthy people shouldn’t be detained in hotels.
Speculation regarding cancellation
While it remains unclear as to why Ms Teffaha’s licence has been cancelled, the Age reports that Family Court deputy principal registrar Virginia Wilson notified the VLSB in January 2021 about the lawyer’s conduct in a family law case last year, which saw a judge prohibit her from representing her client.
Justice Kirsty Macmillan outlined Iast August that there were multiple reasons why Teffaha shouldn’t represent her client, a mother, including her having known both parents, as well as having spoken to the father on the phone – after he contacted her – in breach of an understanding that they wouldn’t communicate with each other.
The lawyer was also referred to the Queensland Legal Services Commission in February by magistrate Anthony Gett over submissions she made that he believed “may be prejudicial to or diminish the public confidence in the administration of justice”.
Teffaha was one lawyer representing seven co-accused who were allegedly helping mothers steal their children from father’s who were sexually abusing them, when she submitted that one of the children had been “let down” by police and that the court was “enabling” the child’s abuse.
The fight continues
The Victorian lawyer told the Guardian last month that she believed the VSLB was considering revoking her practising certificate over the Queensland incident, however the publication understood that the sanctioning may also relate to the pandemic class actions.
The VSLB has appointed Hall and Wilcox partner Jacob Uljans to take over Teffaha’s Advocate Me firm for the next six months. While the anti-lockdown lawyer is currently appealing the decision the legal watchdog has taken against her.
As for the public housing tower class action, it has not been listed for a hearing date as yet. But it will go ahead under different legal representation.
The ligation is fronted by public housing tenant Idris Hassan, and it lists two prominent Victorian Health Department officials, as well as state police commissioner Shane Patton and the state of Victoria as defendants.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.