The Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) (‘the Act’) creates various eligibility requirements and standards for legal professionals. In the event of criminal conviction, even if arising out of a practitioner’s personal life, these requirements may give rise to a suitability matter or a ‘show cause’ event, whereby a practitioner must make submissions addressing their ongoing suitability as a fit and proper person to hold a local practicing certificate.


This blog will outline the operation of the Act and set out the appropriate course of action if you are served with a show cause notice.


Legal Framework


  • Suitability


Suitability matters are contained in section 9 of the Act. These include, among other things, if a person has been convicted of an Australian offence, and if so, relevant considerations are the nature of the offence, how long ago the offence was committed, and the person’s age when the offence was committed.[1] A conviction for an offence is defined to mean a finding of guilt and the acceptance of a guilty plea whether or not a conviction was recorded.[2]


The various suitability matters in section 9 have been held to be ‘under the umbrella of the general test to be applied when the fitness and propriety of a person to continue as a legal practitioner is in issue: whether that person should any longer be held out as fit to practise, or whether they are ‘… a fit and proper person to be entrusted with the important duties and grave responsibilities of a solicitor’’.[3]


  • Show Cause


The Act also creates requirements for a person to provide a submission should they be the subject of a ‘show cause event’.[4] A ‘show cause event’ is defined in Schedule 2 of the Act to mean a person’s conviction for a ‘serious offence’ which is in turn defined to mean any indictable offence even if dealt with summarily.[5] Sections 67 and 68 of the Act then allows that person to provide a written statement to the regulatory authority addressing the show cause event itself and explaining why, despite the event, the practitioner continues to be a fit and proper person to hold a local practising certificate.


Whilst not directly considering sections 67 or 68 of the Act, it is useful to at least canvass how Australian courts have interpreted the presence of criminal convictions in suitability matters.


In Legal Services Board v McGrath (No 2) [2010] VSC 332, Chief Justice Warren made three points:

  1. conviction for any serious breach of the law must call into question a practitioner’s willingness and ability to obey the law, which is integral to the civic office which they perform and the trust reposed in them to properly perform that function;
  2. the legal profession demands both empathy and insight into the victims of criminal behaviour, and any conviction which appears to show a disdain for victims will raise a serious concern about a practitioner’s professional and moral fitness to remain an officer of the court; and
  3. any suggestion that crimes committed at arm’s length can be considered of lesser seriousness in deciding upon an individual’s fitness to remain on the roll, should be the subject of intense scrutiny.


Young CJ in Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales v P [2003] NSWCA 320 provides further useful commentary:

  1. the fact that a practitioner is convicted of a serious offence is not necessarily sufficient reason for a striking off order;
  2. the fact of conviction and imprisonment is, however, far from irrelevant and may be regarded as carrying a degree of disgrace itself;
  3. the conduct in question must be examined to see whether it is of such personally disgraceful character that the practitioner should not remain a member of the profession;
  4. the fact that the practitioner pleaded guilty will usually be counted in their favour; and
  5. conduct not occurring in the course of professional practice may demonstrate unfitness if it amounts to incompatibility with the personal qualities essential for the conduct of the practice.


Young CJ also accepted and applied ten propositions, derived from American authorities, which he considered could point to compelling mitigating circumstances in cases concerning suitability:

  1. absence of a prior disciplinary record or criminal record;
  2. absence of motive for personal enrichment;
  3. honesty and cooperation with the authorities after detection;
  4. the offences being unrelated to the practice of law;
  5. the ignominy of having suffered a criminal conviction and the deterrent element;
  6. the absence of premeditation with respect to the commission of the crime;
  7. evidence of good character;
  8. any voluntary self-imposed suspension or court imposed temporary suspension from practice;
  9. delay in commencing disciplinary proceedings; and
  10. most importantly, clear and convincing evidence of rehabilitation.



How we can help


If you find yourself in a show cause position as a result of a conviction for a serious offence, submissions must be made addressing your fitness to continue holding a practicing certificate. The fact that you have received a show cause notice does not in itself mean that you will no longer be able to practice. Submissions must be made having regard to the aforementioned mitigating circumstances.


To avoid potentially serious implications for your career, Robertson O’Gorman is committed to assisting clients in the making of oral and written submissions.


Our team of professional discipline specialists – Dan Rogers, Terry O’Gorman, Leigh Rollason, Dominic Brunello and Emma Higgins – are highly experienced in assisting with these matters. Contact us on (07) 3034 0000 for advice regarding your show cause notice.

[1] Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) s 9(1)(e).

[2] Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) s 11.

[3] Singh v Legal Services Commissioner [2013] QCA 384.

[4] Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) s 67 and 68.

[5] Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) sch 2.