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The Impact of Dishonesty and Fraudulent Behavior on Admission of a Legal Practitioner

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The adherence of good faith and character are important within our daily lives, as within our chosen careers. There are ever-present barriers that prevent the dishonest from potential succession in professional careers. Inevitably these wrong decisions whether errors of youth, such as, dishonesty or later in life with acts of fraud, can potentially prevent an individual from obtaining admission to the professional realm. The following essay will discuss that not only the passage of time, but also the acts that are foreseeably errors of our ways, can challenge the admission of a legal practitioner. This essay will discuss acts of dishonesty and fraudulent behavior and how they can become an insurmountable barrier in obtaining admission as a legal practitioner.

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Positions within the practicing legal profession are highly sort after, therefore, it is pertinent that they adhere to regulations of policy and procedure and act ethically, honestly, and with good moral character. Furthermore, it is crucial that the legal professional regulating body, ensure that individuals are deemed to be “fit and proper” and possess “good fame and character” if they are to be admitted to practice. Lawyers, like most professionals in similar roles, are required to follow and adhere to a set of codes of conduct. Dal Pont argues,

“Legal ethics is an oxymoron to the extent that legal implies mandatory rules, whereas ethics for many connotes discretionary rules. In this latter sense, some use the term “ethics” to distinguish rules that are professionally binding (ethical rules) from rules that are legally binding (legal rules).”

A profession embodies diverse meanings and attitudes, which fluctuate depending on the profession in question in which one is employed within. Professionalism itself indicates highly educated individuals gaining and sharing pertinent knowledge to parties within society by providing these required services generally at a cost to paying for the service. An individual’s own ethics and moral turpitudes encompass what they see, feel and deem as fit and proper. With this in mind professions such as medical, financial and legal fields have a high standard of what is deemed to be morally and ethically perceived as acceptable in order to practice within. It is obviously evident that an accountant who has a criminal record for breaches of trust funds or embezzlement would be rejected from practicing. With this fortification in place for both the provider and the consumer, the ultimate outcome is the protection against or duplicitous practitioners.

The intrinsic jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is augmented by statutory jurisdiction of the Northern Territory of Australia Legal Profession Act 2018, (LPA) the Supreme Court is the body that has the final say if a potential applicants success with admission. There are numerous specific requirements needed in order to achieve this, including successful completion of required education and training. Educational requirements are in place in order to certify that individuals ‘who follow the high calling of a legal practitioner are competent and skilled to advise their clients and to attend to their affairs’. These are pertained to division two, Admission to Legal Profession and division three, Eligibility and Suitability for Admission of the LPA.

The admissions process entrusts that applicants are of good fame and character. It is pertinent that in the admissions process potential applicants disclose all matters of previous dishonesty of any nature, if this fails to be adhered to refusal may be deemed. A good moral character would be applicable to a professional within the legal environment, an applicant needs to display and act with the utmost good faith in the admission process by disclosing issues that potentially touch on whether they are a fit and proper person under S25 (b) of the Northern Territory LPA.

An applicant’s honesty by way of divulging any past misconduct may affect the outcome of an admission, in Re Davis; the Supreme Court of NSW removed a practicing lawyer from the bar in 1947 due to not disclosing a guilty plea for criminal charges. Again in Re Bell, an applicant who had a history of bankruptcy and charged with criminal offences although no conviction was recorded, Bell was deemed to fail in the area of fit and proper. The admission board considers lack of being honest and forthright a very serious breach. If an applicant disclosed any and all offences prior to admission, it is seen to be a potential benefit to them, therefore, more likely to eventuate in admission by showing that affirming the applicant fit and proper, having displayed a good moral character .

Black J of the US Supreme Court seen this necessity to be a negative one, “good fame and character will be presumed, unless there is evidence of past misconduct. Good moral conduct means an absence of proven acts, which have been historically considered a manifestation of moral turpitude”.

Being honest and disclosing all facets of prior actions can effect potential admission; even with past actions portraying an uncertain character. In the case of Ex parte Lenehan, the issue of admission to practice was denied due to a previous criminal history, deeming him not of good fame and character, however a decorated war service brought about a good reputation seeing him redeem his character and admission being achieved.

In Re B, saw denial of admission due to Wendy bacon being deemed to not being of good fame and character due to her continuing political activities were incompatible with that of a lawyer. Bacon was denied admission on the basis that she lied concerning the source of bail money she had supplied. Bacon had a history with regards to political activism, while she was given a finding of lack of honesty being the reason why she was denied admission. Justice Reynolds posited over Bacons failure to gain admission questioning one whom would wish to enter the practice of law, with such disregard… ‘That in the zealous pursuit of political goals she will break the law if she regards it as impeding the success of her cause”.

Plagiarism is a blatant act of both dishonesty and fraud. Plagiarism at University level could potentially exclude an applicant from admittance. The cases of Re OG a Lawyer , Re Liveri , Re AJG , Law Society of Tasmania v Richardson , Re: Humzy-Hancock and Re Joy Onyeledo refer to plagiarism carried out where the defendant had failed to disclose their dishonesty during the admission process thereby, resulting in only two of the six above being subsequently admitted. This amplifies the seriousness of the issue of plagiarism.

“A serious responsibility to the court — a duty to itself, to the rest of the profession, to its suitors, and to the whole of the community to be careful not to accredit any person as worthy of public confidence who cannot satisfactorily establish his right to that credential”.

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