[Author – Tim ODwyer]
Gold Coast conveyancing clerk Anne Mullins and her company Simply Conveyancing Australia Pty Ltd have pleaded guilty to Office of Fair Trading charges that they falsely held themselves out as legal practitioners in breach of Sections 573A and 573C of the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Act (PAMDA). Fair Trading may have made legal history when it laid these “marketeering” charges, in circumstances of apparent illegal property conveyancing, because no other action was taken by the Legal Services Commissioner under the protective legislation he polices.
The Commercial and Consumer Tribunal heard evidence from Fair Trading that on a number of occasions a licensed real estate agent referred property buyers to Mullins and her company to handle their conveyancing. By their conduct and their documentation both Mullins and Simply Conveyancing gave, in the words of the Tribunal, “every appearance of acting as solicitors in a conveyancing matter.” Simply Conveyancing’s letterheads even included a notation: “Division of D L McClelland & Co. Solicitors”. The Tribunal noted how solicitor Douglas McClelland from that firm had earlier explained to the Queensland Law Society that this notation was not correct and that, on learning of the letterhead, he had directed the removal of his name.
After accepting the guilty pleas the Consumer and Commercial Tribunal disqualified Mullins and her company from holding any PAMDA licences for five years. The company was also prohibited for five years from being involved in the provision of services relating to the sale of residential property. No similar prohibition was placed on Mullins herself lest, in the view of the Tribunal, it should prevent her from working as an employee of a solicitor. Because McClelland had regarded her as “a competent conveyancer”, the Tribunal did not want to deprive her of that avenue of employment. Fines and costs totalling $8,000.00 were imposed on Mullins and her company.
Despite taking heed of McClelland’s Law Society letter, the Tribunal acknowledged that it had some difficulty understanding his attempt to explain his relationship with Mullins and her company. Clearly Fair Trading had failed to disclose that McClelland himself had been suspended from practice for four months after the Legal Practice Tribunal found him guilty of professional misconduct for sharing fees from his conveyancing practice with Mullins. Law Society investigations on behalf of the Legal Services Commissioner showed how McClelland had worked in tandem with her under a “collaborative umbrella agreement”.
Would the Tribunal, had it heard the full story, have taken any notice of his letter to the Law Society written in the course of his professional conduct’s being officially investigated? No doubt Fair Trading also failed to mention that, after its own investigations of McClelland, he gave an Enforceable Undertaking in connection with alleged breaches himself of the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Act.
More on the solicitor:
Conveyancing Solicitor Suspended
Wounded Bull Solicitor Busted
Second law firm on good behaviour