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Barry Hart won't know until February if he can be a lawyer again.
The veteran Auckland defence barrister's appeal against a lawyers and conveyancers disciplinary tribunal decision to strike him off wrapped up at Auckland High Court today.
Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann and Justice Graham Lang reserved their decision, which they said they hoped to release by February 7.
Mr Hart was struck off three months ago after the disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of grossly overcharging and obstructing a Law Society investigation.
His lawyer Anthony Trenwith – who once assisted Mr Hart at Barry Hart Chambers and is now a first-year Seminarian at the Catholic Diocese of Auckland seminary – said the strike-off was disproportionate to the tribunal’s findings.
In closing submissions Mr Trenwith said Mr Hart, who sat in the public gallery during the appeal, had suffered a miscarriage of justice because the July hearing went ahead without him when he was too unwell to attend.
He said the tribunal had erred in not calling all of Mr Hart’s witnesses and rejecting the evidence of two of them.
The Law Society’s suggestion that Mr Hart had deliberately tried to frustrate the tribunal’s process was disrespectful to his client, whose doctor had given him a professional statement of his health, Mr Trenwith said.
The medical certificate provided to the court, deeming Mr Hart unfit to work, “speaks for itself and should be the end of the matter”, Mr Trenwith said.
“It is important not to over-scrutinise this, because of the risk of stepping into the shoes of an expert."
Justice Lang said he was puzzled why Mr Hart had agreed to meet a costs order against him of $20,000 within 14 days but had not done so.
“What are we to take out of the fact it hasn’t been paid?” the judge asked.
Mr Trenwith said Mr Hart had anticipated making the payment by borrowing against future earnings, which he no longer has.
Earlier, Law Society lawyer Paul Collins said the tribunal was justified in striking off Mr Hart, who had become something of an “outlaw” and whose record demonstrated he was beyond control.
Mr Hart’s lack of insight and remorse was a key factor for the court to consider, Mr Collins said.
The tribunal had accepted that striking off, particularly in a practitioner of such seniority, was a last-resort response.
But his approach to the proceedings and disciplinary history meant suspension was not an option.
The tribunal noted:
“The arrogant and derisory manner in which he has approached any complaint – right up to the penalty hearing … has meant that we can have no confidence in either his rehabilitation or protection of the public by ensuring there is no risk of reoffending.”
Mr Collins said the court should not lightly depart from the decision of the tribunal, as the specialist in the regulation of the legal profession.
Mr Hart’s lack of insight and remorse was another key factor for the court to consider.
“He has shown no remorse and there has never been any admission of wrong doing,” Mr Collins said.
Although Mr Hart’s financial strife is widely known, Mr Collins said the tribunal’s order of costs of $20,000 against Mr Hart was appropriate.
Outside the court, Mr Hart declined to make any comments to NBR ONLINE, saying it was not appropriate to do so.