Tennet v Wellington Standards Committee 2  NZHC 1932.
Christopher Tennet is a well-known Wellington criminal defence barrister who has practised law for more than 40 years.
On 26 October 2022 the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found a charge of misconduct proved against him. The charge related to Tennet’s conduct in rendering an invoice for $3,450 to a vulnerable client for a private assessment report relevant to sentencing when the true cost was only $1,200. Tennet then destroyed the report, without giving it to the client.
On 17 May 2023, the tribunal considered the appropriate penalty. The starting point was striking off. But, in light of the many positive references from colleagues and clients, the tribunal reduced the penalty to a 12-month suspension, noting this offered Tennet “the opportunity of redemption”. The suspension was to start on 22 June 2023.
The tribunal also ordered a period of supervision upon his return to practice and that Tennet was to attend courses on ethics, professional behaviour and self-management; undergo counselling; pay costs of $40,798.40; and pay $12,182 in tribunal costs.
Tennet accepted the liability findings and had voluntarily undergone further ethics training. He appealed the penalty, arguing he should not be suspended at all, and applied to stay the suspension order, pending the penalty appeal.
The Standards Committee consented to a stay on an “interim interim” basis (until the stay application could be heard) but firmly opposed any extension of the stay until the penalty appeal hearing.
The penalty appeal was given an expedited hearing date of 21 August 2023. Tennet had advised a willingness to be subject to supervision from another practitioner while awaiting the penalty appeal.
Applicable principles: Rule 20.10 of the High Court Rules 2016 – discretion to order a stay or grant any interim relief – broad discretion to be exercised in the interests of justice – general and specific public interest factors in protecting legal consumers and Tennet’s clients – consideration of explanation for behaviour and voluntary steps taken by Tennet while awaiting penalty appeal – balance to be struck between chance of rendering the appeal nugatory and protection of the public.
Held: Order made that the suspension shall not take effect until penalty hearing on 21 August 2023.
In light of the protective measures taken, the wider public interest or the clear interest in protecting Tennet’s clients will not suffer if a brief further stay is granted. This will ensure Tennet’s interests are also protected. The overall balance of convenience favours a stay. The question of stay can, if considered necessary, be revisited after the penalty appeal is heard by the judge concerned.