ICAC finds barrister and solicitor corrupt

Monday 15 March 2010

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has made corrupt conduct findings against barrister John Hart and solicitor Anthony Paul for misleading various courts by providing false information about their clients, and for seeking to obtain money improperly from the Attorney General's Department (AGD) by agreeing to submit an artificially inflated costs claim.

In its Report on corrupt conduct affecting the administration of justice in the Wagga Wagga and other local court areas, released today, the Commission also makes corrupt conduct findings against Mr Hart's client, Jason Kelly, in respect to the costs claim, and for providing money to Mr Hart intended to pay an officer of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to adversely affect the officer's functions.

The report finds that Mr Kelly, Mr Paul and Mr Hart agreed to submit an artificially inflated costs claim of $76,008.80. The AGD (which is now part of the Department of Justice and Attorney General) assessed the claim according to a scale rate and a $45,552 cheque was sent to Mr Kelly. After retaining the $26,943 he had previously paid Mr Paul's legal firm for representation, he kept a further $5,609 and with the remainder paid $8,000 and $5,000 respectively to Mr Paul's firm and Mr Hart.

The Commission finds that Mr Kelly, Christopher Trinder and Jeffrey Nankivell engaged in corrupt conduct by providing money to Mr Hart they intended he would use to pay to an officer of the DPP to ensure that no prosecution would commence against them arising from a sexual assault allegation. While Mr Hart did seek and receive $12,000 on the basis that he would pay $10,000 of it to the DPP, no corrupt conduct finding is made against  Mr Hart in this instance, as the Commission found he never had any intention of making a payment to an officer of the DPP, and never made such a payment.

The ICAC has recommended that the advice of the DPP be sought with respect to the prosecution of Mr Hart for 10 offences of perverting the course of justice contrary to the Crimes Act 1900, and four offences of false pretences contrary to the Crimes Act. It also recommends DPP advice be sought with respect to the prosecution of Mr Paul for an offence of perverting the course of justice, and each of Messrs Kelly, Trinder and Nankivell for an offence of offering a corrupt benefit and an offence of perverting the course of justice.

The Commission is of the opinion that consideration should be given to the taking of disciplinary action under the Legal Profession Act 2004 against Mr Hart and Mr Paul for unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct. Although Mr Hart and Mr Paul have surrendered their practising certificates, without any formal such finding each may be entitled to seek the re-issuing of a practising certificate.

The report finds that between 2008 and 2009, Mr Hart deliberately misled various local courts by providing false information such as fake residential addresses or employment details of his clients to secure the transfer of matters from one court to another, while on one occasion Mr Paul misled the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney. In one instance, Mr Hart misled Sutherland Local Court by falsely telling the court that his client had relocated to Wagga Wagga. He then constructed another false story to enable the matter to be adjourned to a later date so it would be heard by a particular magistrate.

Mr Hart then lied to his client, who was about to board a flight from Sydney to Wagga Wagga, by telling her that his preferred magistrate had "gone off sick" which was not the case, and suggested she should miss her flight. Mr Hart also spoke with Sergeant Steve Turner, a Wagga Wagga Police Prosecutor, that day and later admitted to the Commission that he lied to Sergeant Turner by telling him that his client had rung him and said she could not get a flight from the Gold Coast.                    

The ICAC held a public inquiry as part of this investigation over eight days commencing 21 September 2009. The then Commissioner, the Hon Jerrold Cripps QC, presided at the inquiry, at which 16 persons gave evidence.

Fact sheet

Investigation report