We have published a number of blogs about lawyers who have engaged in professional misconduct and unethical behaviour.
In many cases, these lawyers were ‘struck off’ – meaning that that they lost their licence to practice law.
In a profession that demands respect for the law, integrity is paramount, and accusations of dishonest conduct are taken very seriously by the Law Society in each state.
However, it was recently reported that a Queensland barrister who was found guilty of numerous tax offences in 2012 has been tipped to become a magistrate.
49-year-old Brisbane barrister John Miles, who practices commercial law, was convicted of seven offences after he failed to lodge several tax returns between 2010 and 2012.
His offending was apparently ‘out of character,’ and the Presiding Magistrate gave him an18-month good behaviour bond, as well as a fine of $6,000 – but no conviction was recorded on his criminal record.
In Queensland, it is possible to receive a fine but no conviction.
That outcome is not possible in NSW, where a court-imposed fine for a criminal offence automatically carries a criminal conviction.
In fact in NSW, the only way to avoid a conviction if you are guilty of a criminal offence is if you get what’s known as a ‘section 10’ order; whereby you are guilty but the Magistrate exercises his or her discretion not to convict or fine you.
While Mr Miles denies being approached for the role, the reports have roused anger within the legal profession.
Some of Mr Miles’ colleagues at the bar have voiced concerns that the appointment would be inappropriate and suggestive of a pattern of partisanship within the Newman government, with some stating that it shows the Premier is simply giving ‘jobs to the boys.’
In Queensland, the role of appointing magistrates rests with the Governor-in-Council.
This role is currently held by Paul de Jersey; a former barrister and judge.
However, while the Governor-in-Council makes the final determination as to who should become a magistrate, he takes recommendations from the Minister for Justice, who must consult with the Chief Magistrate when making these recommendations.
The Minister for Justice at present is the state’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie, while the Chief Magistrate is Ray Rinaudo.
Magistrate Rinaudo was appointed to the position in June this year following the promotion of the state’s previous Chief Magistrate, Tim Carmody, to the role of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Justice Carmody’s promotion also drew criticism from prominent members of the Queensland legal fraternity, including President of the Queensland Bar Association, Peter Davis QC.
Many legal professionals questioned the appropriateness of Carmody’s promotion, given he had served as Chief Magistrate for less than a year.
Furthermore, though members of the judiciary are required to maintain independence and objectivity in their roles, Carmody came under fire for his vocal support of the Newman government’s controversial bikie laws.
He advocated the government’s ‘tough on crime’ stance and notably sent out an email to other magistrates recommending that they refrain from granting bail to bikies.
Carmody later made changes which effectively meant that he himself heard all bail applications relating to members of bikie gangs.
His approach led to suggestions that he was too closely aligned with the government, and that his appointment to the role of Chief Justice therefore undermined judicial independence and public confidence in the justice system.
Carmody’s contentious appointment, coupled with speculation that John Miles may be appointed as a magistrate, has re-ignited calls for the judicial appointment process to be overhauled in Queensland.
Last month, the Queensland Law Society published a statement calling on political parties to review the current appointment process and establish a protocol for future judicial appointments.
It says that maintaining an independent judiciary is ‘one of the pillars of our democracy and is central to the separation of powers.’
These views are shared by other legal professionals and academics, including Mark Lauchs, a senior lecturer in law at the Queensland University of Technology.
Mr Lauchs says that the current appointment process is outdated and should be replaced by a process that emphasises transparency and fairness.
He suggests that a better approach would be for an independent panel of experts to make recommendations to the Attorney-General in order to reduce politicisation.
Such an approach is already used for Federal Court appointments in Australia.
However, whether any changes to the appointment process will be made is unlikely to be explored until the next state election in 2015.