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A senior lawyer who was convicted for breaching Auckland’s “Checkpoint Charlie” during the Covid lockdown and shared the breach on social media has been suspended from practising law by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
He is a criminal and family associate with MBC Law in Auckland.
Umar Kuddus embarked on what he whimsically dubbed “Checkpoint Charlie,” just a few days after two other lawyers, one of whom was the son of a judge, faced public backlash for escaping to Wānaka for a vacation while the rest of the city was under a level four lockdown.
In September 2021, Kuddus drove from the southern border to the relatively lenient level two restrictions in Waikato to attend a financial assessment hearing for a client. He posted several updates on Facebook and Instagram, attracting the attention of another lawyer who reported him to the police. Kuddus had neither a work exemption nor a personal exemption to cross the lockdown boundary.
During his excursion, he uploaded a photo of himself heading toward the police’s border control at Mercer, comparing it to “Auckland’s version of Checkpoint Charlie,” the infamous crossing point on the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.
Kuddus was convicted of failing to comply with a Covid-19 order in the Pukekohe District Court in July of the previous year and was fined $900. He attempted to justify his actions by claiming he had been “trapped at home for so long” and couldn’t pursue his passion for litigation.
During the hearing, Judge John McDonald reminded Kuddus that others in the community had also made sacrifices and missed important events.
Despite the judge’s initial belief that the Law Society wouldn’t seek to strike Kuddus from the roll of barristers and solicitors, a suspension was ultimately requested at the Tribunal.
Kuddus accepted the charge of misconduct and was suspended for six weeks, censured, and ordered to pay costs (the amount of which is yet to be determined).
“I am remorseful… and ashamed because I realize that as lawyers, we have a fundamental duty to uphold the law. I felt that I was acting in accordance with the law, obviously I wasn’t; I accept that now. There’s no one else to blame but me.”
The panel questioned him about his extensive social media posts, which documented his rule-breaking activities. In hindsight, Kuddus said that it was “absolutely ridiculous” to post such content and expressed regret, saying, “I just wish I could take it back.”
He also provided evidence that he had already been demoted at work and removed from the board of trustees for a charity. If he were to be suspended, he feared losing his job altogether.