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A Lawyers Standards Committee is made up of lawyers and non-lawyers (also known as “lay members”). The lawyers are senior practitioners, and the lay members are people of good standing in the community.
A Standards Committee considering a complaint must have at least two lawyers and one lay member, but may have up to seven lawyers and two lay members.
There are 22 Standards Committees around New Zealand, with at least one in each of the regions covered by a New Zealand Law Society branch, and several in the larger population centres.
Part Seven of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 sets out the requirements for complaints and discipline, and sections 126 to 189 govern the functions, duties and powers of Standards Committees.
If the Standards Committee believes the complaint could be resolved without a lengthy investigation and hearing, it may ask both parties to try to resolve the complaint, or any part of it, by negotiation, conciliation or mediation.
If this leads to an agreed settlement, the Standards Committee may record the terms of the settlement and, with the consent of the parties, declare that to be all or part of its final determination.
If appropriate, the Professional Standards Officer will send the complaint to an experienced mediator who will contact both parties. The complainant and the lawyer may choose their own mediator, but will then have to pay for their services.
A Standards Committee may decide to take no action on a complaint. This could be because:
A Standards Committee may also decide to take no further action if the investigation indicates that further action is unnecessary or inappropriate.
Where a decision to take no action is made, the complainant will be told the reasons and advised of their rights to have that decision reviewed.
Decisions made by a Standards Committee in relation to a complaint are governed by strict rules as to publication.
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 allows a Standards Committee to direct such publication of its decisions as it considers necessary or desirable in the public interest (section 142(2)).
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Complaints Service and Standards Committees) Regulations 2008 state that decisions of Standards Committees must remain confidential unless the Committee makes a direction under s142(2) or directs publication of the identity of a person who is the subject of a censure order. A committee may order that the facts of a complaint be published and on occasion the name or the identity of the lawyer in also included.
If a Standards Committee does not make an order for publication, it is not lawful to provide any information relating to a particular complaint.
Summaries of Standards Committee decisions where the Committee has directed publication are available here.
The purpose of this guidance is to assist Standards Committees achieve a greater degree of consistency in decision-making on penalty.
The guidance seeks to achieve this by reference to the principles and approach to penalty decision-making that should be followed, and also provides indicative penalty ranges for particular types of conduct.
It must be stressed that Standards Committees must impose the penalty that they consider, in their assessment, is appropriate to meet all the particular facts and circumstances of each individual case that they decide. Nothing in this guidance is intended to limit or inhibit the decision-making powers of Standards Committees under the LCA.
This policy records the Law Society’s commitment to act as a ‘model litigant’. It provides information about that commitment for people who may be involved in court cases with the Law Society. It is also a guideline for people who work for the Law Society in this area.