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Source: New Zealand Law Society

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa acknowledges today’s High Court judgment, following an appeal by the Standards Committee, which increases James Gardner-Hopkins’ suspension as a practising lawyer from two years to the maximum period of three years.
The High Court regarded Mr Gardner-Hopkins’ misconduct as serious, and said “it is conduct that is wholly unacceptable in the legal profession.”
The judgment recognises the importance of the public and the profession being able to have confidence that those entering the profession will be safe and treated with respect, and ensuring that misconduct is appropriately dealt with in a way which both the profession and the public expect.
The High Court’s decision means Mr Gardner-Hopkins cannot practise as a lawyer in New Zealand for three years. The penalty imposed also means Mr Gardner-Hopkins will not automatically be able to work as a lawyer after his suspension ends in February 2025.
Following suspension, he will need to apply to the Law Society for a new practising certificate and he will have to prove he is fit and proper to be a lawyer again.
The Law Society acknowledges the time this matter has taken to progress and the effect this has had on the women involved.
As an organisation, we have already made changes to our process to make it more suitable for sensitive complaints like this one. Other changes to ensure the complaints system can be faster, more victim-focused and transparent require amendments to our legislation.
As well as this, the Independent Review of legal services in Aotearoa New Zealand is currently consulting with the legal profession and the wider public to identify what changes are needed for modern and well-functioning regulation and representation of the legal profession in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Law Society has already adopted recommendations from the inquiry undertaken by Dame Silvia Cartwright including mandatory reporting obligations for sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and other inappropriate workplace behaviour within the legal profession, clearer behavioural standards, and ‘whistle-blower’ protection.
The High Court concludes that “Mr Gardner-Hopkins’ actions were serious. All the young women were particularly vulnerable. Quite apart from his physical presence and the age difference between them, as a partner of the firm, Mr Gardner-Hopkins was responsible for their safety and wellbeing.”
The Law Society will continue its focus on making positive changes for the legal profession and wider public.
Editors Note: Complaints and disciplinary process
The New Zealand Law Society is part of a co-regulatory system that considers complaints and disciplinary matters relating to all lawyers. The Law Society administers one aspect of the complaint and disciplinary process – the Lawyers Complaints Service – which receives all complaints about lawyers. All complaints made to the Law Society are referred to an independent Standards Committee.
There are 22 Standards Committees across Aotearoa New Zealand made up of lawyers and lay people appointed by the Law Society. Everyone on a Standards Committee is appointed for their skills and experience. Law Society staff support the Standards Committees in carrying out their functions.
Under the Act, Standards Committees are responsible for investigating and deciding on the outcome of complaints made about lawyers. Standards Committees also have the power to undertake an “own motion” investigation. Standards Committees are able to give a direction for negotiation, conciliation, or mediation, make findings of unsatisfactory conduct, make a referral to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, or decide to take no further action.
The Tribunal is an independent and separate body administered by the Ministry of Justice which operates much like a court. Only the Tribunal may make a finding of misconduct and suspend a lawyer or strike them from the Roll of Barristers and Solicitors. Being struck off means that a lawyer cannot practise law in the future. The practitioner or a Standards Committee can appeal a decision of the Tribunal under section 253 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2008. The appeal period is 20 working days.
The Practice Approval Committees are the Law Society’s specialist committees which consider non-standard legal practice applications, including applications by lawyers to return to legal practice after suspension. The Committee must be satisfied the right support systems are in place following a suspension, to ensure the person can practice as a lawyer in a way which protects both legal consumers, and the reputation of the legal profession. Where the Committees feel a formal arrangement should be put in place, they may ask an applicant to undertake to comply with certain conditions. Those conditions are tailored to suit the person’s circumstances. Each committee has five senior lawyer members and one lay member. The Committees operate under the delegation of the Law Society Board.