A majority of Supreme Court judges thought a convicted drink driver should not be barred from being a lawyer.
An Upper Hutt man has won an argument against the Law Society over whether his history of four drink driving convictions meant he was not a fit and proper person to be a lawyer.
John Llewellyn Stanley, who is in his mid-60s, finished his law degree in 2011, after a career as an insurance broker and public servant.
He asked to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 2017 but the New Zealand Law Society refused to issue a certificate of character which he needed to be admitted.
He had four drink driving convictions, the oldest from 42 years ago and the most recent in 2014.
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Stanley took the Law Society to court and he lost in the High Court but won on an appeal to the Court of Appeal.
He was then admitted as a barrister and solicitor, although undertook to accept limits on his work pending the Law Society’s case to the Supreme Court.
In its decision issued on Monday, the court was split three judges to two, with the majority in favour of Stanley.
Speaking after the decision Stanley said he was very pleased with the result.
“I have absolute faith in the great judges, and I also believe in the Law Society but there are a couple of them in there that got it wrong.”
The Supreme Court heard previously that if Stanley had been refused admission to the profession he would have been the first person in New Zealand unable to work as a lawyer due to drink-driving convictions.
Stanley said he would never drink and drive again.
“I would never put myself in that position again. I agree with the law, I don’t think I should be drinking and driving. But I had no idea I was over the limit when I was captured.”
He did not have firm plans for his career.
“I would like to help people who get in situations like this – where proceedings are taken by extremely wealthy organisations – and need help.”
In their decision, 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. Perfection was not required.
Any prior convictions had to still be relevant if they were to be held against someone wanting to be a lawyer.
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.
There was no suggestion of dishonesty or a lack of candour.
The Supreme Court thought it was relevant that both the High Court and the Court of Appeal accepted Stanley’s sincerity to reform.
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.