John Stanley, a mature law student in his mid-60s, was denied admission to the bar in 2017 as a result of four drink driving convictions.
The former insurance agent, who completed his law degree in 2011, took his case to the Supreme Court and has won his argument that he is a fit and proper person to be a lawyer.
After losing his case in the High Court and winning in the Court of Appeal, the Law Society dug their heels in and took the case to the Supreme Court, where they have lost again with a split decision in favour of Stanley.
Justice William Young, Justice Mark O’Regan, and Justice Ellen France said the purpose of the “fit and proper standard” test was to ensure that lawyers could be entrusted to meet the duties and fundamental obligations imposed on lawyers.
Although prior convictions had to still be relevant if they were to be held against someone wanting to be a lawyer.
Stanley’s convictions, from 1978 to 2014, were of obvious concern, they said but they did not bear a direct connection with legal practice. The most recent conviction was seven years ago and there was no suggestion of any dishonesty or lack of candour.
The court was told one of the convictions was from taking “hospital linctus” for pain relief, for which he was fined only. Another resulted in a fine but no disqualification, when a judge accepted there were special circumstances not to disqualify him.
The Supreme Court thought it was relevant that both the High Court and the Court of Appeal accepted Stanley’s sincerity to reform.
It said those already accepted into the profession who committed similar offences had not been removed from the roll of barristers and solicitors.
The Chief Justice, Dame Helen Winkelmann, and Justice Susan Glazebrook, thought the convictions remained relevant, and they would have allowed the Law Society’s appeal.
The Judges said that drink driving was serious because it was inherently dangerous and repeated convictions would often signal a drinking problem, or contempt for the law, or both.
With the convictions received as a mature man the two judges in the minority thought Stanley could be seen as acting as though different rules applied to him. They also said that they thought Stanley continued to minimise the seriousness of his offending.
They thought he should have had an independent expert’s opinion of his drinking instead of relying on his own statements that he had stopped drinking.