Harassment, drug use may be ‘prevalent’ in Queensland legal circles

Legal Services Commissioner Megan Mahon insists the majority of lawyers do the right thing, but some continue to tarnish the profession.

Nov 17, 2020, updated Nov 17, 2020
Richard Roxburgh as the colourful lawyer Cleaver Greene in the ABC series Rake.

Richard Roxburgh as the colourful lawyer Cleaver Greene in the ABC series Rake.

In her annual report, tabled in State Parliament, McMahon vowed to continue working with the Bar Association of Queensland and the Queensland Law Society to address underlying cultural issues in the profession.

“The ongoing concern of particular conduct of individuals, which is thought to be prevalent in the profession, saw heightened publicity around matters of sexual harassment and illicit drug use, including convictions for serious offences,” McMahon wrote.

“While personal conduct is the responsibility of each and every legal professional, as co-regulators, I am committed to working with the BAQ and the QLS in addressing these issues and encouraging cultural change within the profession. It is only through awareness and encouragement by the profession’s leaders, often by themselves setting the best example, that we will achieve positive change in the profession.”

While personal issues could be dealt with, or spiral out of control and into professional conduct, McMahon said it was important to “safeguard the reputation of the profession itself”.

“The profession’s good reputation is paramount, given that its members are the very ones who play a pivotal role in the administration of justice in Queensland and in whom the public so very often place their trust,” she wrote.

The majority of complaints to the commission were from clients or former clients, often about costs, however the more serious matters resulted in seven practitioners being removed from the roll in 2019-2022. Another two were suspended and eight reprimanded.

“I wish to acknowledge the vast majority of the legal fraternity who are good, honest, ethical professionals,” McMahon wrote.

“These practitioners continue to uphold their professional responsibilities and maintain the high standards expected of the legal profession – it is only a few who do not. Although the Commission receives a high volume of complaints each year, less than a quarter of those complaints progress to further investigation, and of those, only a small percentage proceed to prosecution.

“It is however disappointing to report, that as a result of our investigations and prosecutions, seven legal practitioners were found unfit to practice and were consequently removed from the Roll of Legal Practitioners. I don’t take any delight in advising of this number.”

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