Thieving Lawyers: Trust and Fidelity in the High Court: Legal Services Board v Gillespie-Jones

By Associate Professor Elise Bant

Gillespie-Jones Case Page

The elusive nature of the Quistclose trust has spawned much comment, analysis and speculation, by judges and scholars in equal measure, since its genesis in Barclays Bank Ltd v Quistclose Investments Ltd [1968] UKHL 4; [1970] AC 567. A Quistclose trust is a trust which may arise when a loan is made for a specific purpose (and is often asserted by a lender when the purpose of the loan fails) but its precise nature is highly debatable. In that context, those of us who had hoped for a definitive clarification, or even some in-depth discussion, of the doctrine in the much-awaited High Court decision of Legal Services Board v Gillespie-Jones [2013] HCA 35 may be forgiven for feeling slightly disappointed. However, the Court’s circumvention of that debate (explicable in the light of its reasoning, discussed below) is offset by some very interesting observations about the interaction of judge-made law and statute, and in particular about the need for ‘coherence’ across the two sources of law, that merit attention in their own right.

How did the case arise? Lawyers stealing from other lawyers
A client facing criminal proceedings paid monies to his solicitor on to cover legal costs associated with his defence. A barrister was retained and performed a variety of services for the solicitor on the client’s behalf, but was not yet paid for those services. Pursuant to s 3.3.2 of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (Vic) (LPA) the monies constituted ‘trust money’ and were to be held for the benefit of the client. Under s 3.3.14, those monies could only be dealt with by the solicitor pursuant to and in accordance with the client’s direction. However, the solicitor stole most of the trust money, leaving the respondent barrister seriously out of pocket. The barrister made a claim for compensation for ‘pecuniary loss’ caused by the solicitor’s default under the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund, a fund maintained by the Legal Services Board (the appellant) under the LPA. A key question was whether the barrister had to show a proprietary interest to successful establish his claim, and if he did, whether he could make out a proprietary interest in the funds held by the solicitor. The appellant at first instance rejected his claim. The respondent successfully appealed to the County Court of Victoria, and won again on appeal to the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria. This run of success ended, however, before the High Court, which unanimously allowed the appellant Board’s appeal. Continue reading

News: Fathers’ Day in the High Court

Today, the High Court will hear an application from Robert Farquharson, who was convicted in 2010 of murdering his three children by deliberately driving into a dam near Winchelsea, Victoria on Fathers’ Day 2005. The events at that dam continue to be of great interest to many Australians, but that is not a typical reason for a criminal defendant to get a full hearing before the national court. Continue reading