By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
On 19 April 1996, Mark Ireland was admitted to practice as a solicitor in New South Wales.
At the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing in March, the Council of the Law Society of NSW was represented by a lawyer. However, Mr Ireland did not attend the hearing and no one appeared on his behalf.
Following hearing the evidence, the members of the Tribunal adjourned at 11.30 am. Approximately five minutes later, a Tribunal officer informed the members that the Law Society’s lawyer had requested their return.
On their return, the lawyer informed the members that his mobile phone had registered two missed calls from Mr Ireland, which were made an hour earlier. The Tribunal members returned the call, and Mr Ireland apologised to the court for his conduct, which he said had ruined his career.
The lawyer further stated that he’d handed in his practising certificate and sold his legal practice.
The Local Court case
Back in February 2006, Daryl Pike was employed as a solicitor by Mr Ireland to work at Mark Ireland Lawyers Pty Ltd. The terms of employment were outlined in a letter presented to Mr Pike on 28 March 2006.
The employment relationship deteriorated, resulting in Mr Pike taking his employer to court on 29 April 2013 on allegations of breaching the terms of the employment contract.
Mr Pike claimed that under the terms of his employment, the firm agreed to pay him $30,000 a year plus 50 percent of the nett earnings Mark Ireland Lawyers were to make from the business Pike was formerly conducting under his own name.
But Mr Pike said he never received the promised 50 percent. Mr Ireland contended that Pike was never entitled to this money, as there was never any agreement for the 50 percent.
The Local Court ordered Mr Ireland to produce all the documents he had relating to Mr Pike’s employment, remuneration, and the business the solicitor had previously been conducting.
A forgotten letter found
Mr Ireland produced what the court referred to as the “28 April affidavit.” It contained a statement that Mr Ireland had drafted the day prior to appearing in the local court, which had a letter attached to it. The letter was referred to as the “20 February 2006 letter” during the Tribunal hearing.
The letter was written by Mr Ireland and was purported to outline the terms of Mr Pike’s employment. According to Mr Ireland, he gave this letter to Pike at the commencement of his employment, but he’d subsequently forgotten about its existence.
Mr Ireland said he’d accidently come across the letter two days before the local court hearing, whilst going through old files on his computer. He claimed that his secretary had electronically filed the 2006 letter in a miscellaneous file marked ‘2005’.
Egg on his face
During the Local Court hearing on 29 and 30 April 2013, Mr Pike’s lawyer questioned Ireland about the legitimacy of the February 2006 letter. Firstly, the lawyer elicited testimony from Ireland that he had “discovered” the letter just prior to the hearing.
Mr Pike’s lawyer then put it to Ireland that he did not write the letter at the time his client began his employment at the firm. Mr Ireland denied this. Mr Ireland was asked to confirm that he had written the letter himself, and replied, “That is correct.”
Mr Pike’s lawyer then asked Mr Ireland how he was able to make reference to the Legal Services Award 2010 in a letter that he had written in 2006. The award document was not even developed until after the federal government passed the Fair Work Act in 2009, three years after Ireland’s letter had supposedly been written.
Mr Ireland replied, “I don’t know how that happened.” Mr Pike’s lawyer put it to Ireland that the letter was a forgery. Ireland denied this. The lawyer then once again asked Ireland whether he had written the letter in 2006, reminding him that he was under oath.
Mr Ireland replied, “That is my understanding.”
Unsurprisingly, Magistrate Bradd found that Mr Ireland had falsely sworn that he had written the letter back in 2006, because it referred to the 2010 award. His Honour concluded the affidavit was fabricated and falsely sworn, and that Ireland’s testimony was “unreliable”
The court found in favour of Mr Pike ordered Ireland to pay $13,303.88 plus interest.
Denial, then admission
The matter was then referred to the Legal Services Commissioner, and the Council for the Law Society of NSW later commenced a series of exchanges with Mr Ireland. The lawyer continued to claim that the 20 February 2006 letter had indeed been written on that date, despite it mentioning the 2010 award rate.
However, on 26 June 2015, after 11 months of correspondence, Mr Ireland wrote to the Law Society admitting that he had lied. He then made further contact, outlining that he was “emotionally unwell” and was going to see a psychologist.
Mr Ireland also wrote a letter to Mr Pike on 24 December 2015, apologising for his conduct. He wrote that he accepted “unreservedly the high standards of conduct that are essential to the practice of a legal practitioner,” and said he was ashamed of having breached those standards.
Like a lead balloon
Mr Ireland engaged a lawyer in December 2015, who wrote a letter to the Law Society admitting that Ireland had created the fake letter before the Local Court hearing. That letter ultimately came before the Tribunal.
The Law Society also required that Ireland “produce a copy of a printout from” from his “electronic data base setting out the content information concerning the letter.” That document was produced and upon it were the words “created 27/04/2013.”
The date suggests it was created two days before the Local Court hearing.
The Tribunal’s decision
The Tribunal had no difficulty finding that Mr Ireland’s conduct made him “guilty of professional misconduct”, which was a “serious and wilful” departure from “standards of behaviour” expected of legal practitioners.
“The deliberate making of untrue statements on oath reveals a lack in qualities of honesty and candour that are essential attributes for a legal practitioner,” the Tribunal members concluded, ordering that “the name Mark Gerard Ireland be removed from the local roll,” and that he pay the court costs of the Council of the Law Society of NSW.
It is unclear whether Mr Ireland will be separately prosecuted for perjury.