Former Otago lawyer Greg Roderick Stewart has been censured and suspended from legal practice after admitting two charges against him.
Stewart – who was ordered to pay a fine of $16,000 and to reimburse hearing costs of $2,488 – admitted to negligence and providing unauthorised banking services, according to an announcement by the New Zealand Law Society.
The admissions were made to the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal which censured the lawyer and suspended him from legal practice for 18 months from 6 September 2016.
According to the tribunal, Stewart’s negligence of his professional capacity was of such a degree as to reflect on his fitness to practise or as to bring his profession into disrepute.
The charged stemmed from trust account irregularities which included a failure to keep adequate records, having client balances overdrawn, failing to reconcile trust bank accounts with the trust ledger, and incorrectly certifying compliance with the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 and the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Trust Account Regulations) 2008.
He also admitted misconduct by breaching Rule 5.5.1 of the Conduct and Client Care Rules by providing banking services which prevents a lawyer from operating a business which provides services to a client, unconnected with regulated services.
The Tribunal considered this charge to be serious because of the privileged nature of a lawyer's trust account. The way this had been used as a selling point for banking services meant there was a serious risk of lawyers beaching their obligations to uphold the rule of law and facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand, the Law Society said.
According to a report from the Otago Daily Times
, the lawyer has had an unblemished record for the 32 years he has practised before admitting to the charges.
Stewart is said to have corrected all the errors found over the three years the irregularities were observed.