Acting Fair and Reasonably Against Opponents

A Brisbane barrister with over 20 years at the Bar has been publicly reprimanded and ordered to undertake 12 months supervision for making unfounded allegations against a self-represented opponent.

Barrister Andrew Wrenn acted for the wife on a direct brief during divorce and later settlement proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court.

Mr Wrenn prepared and filed an application on behalf of his client for an order that the husband pay the wife’s costs on an indemnity basis in relation to the settlement proceedings.

The application was supported by an affidavit which claimed the husband and wife had never been married. The husband’s affidavit deposed this claim and provided evidence in the form of the original marriage certificate.

In further submissions to the Court, the barrister stated the marriage certificate was a forgery and the conduct of the husband amounted to criminal and fraudulent behaviour.

These serious allegations were made by the barrister on behalf of his client despite no hearing of the application and no finding by any court that the husband had falsified the marriage certificate or any other document.

The matter was referred to the Legal Services Commission for further investigation.

Legal Services Commissioner Megan Mahon said making allegations of a serious nature should not be done without substantiating evidence.

“The standard of behaviour for professional interactions is clearly set out in the Barristers’ Rules and the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules” Commissioner Mahon said.

“These rules provide strong guidance for the conduct of matters before a Court.”

“Unsubstantiated allegations made by an experienced legal practitioner against a self-represented opponent falls short of high standards the public and the profession should expect from practitioners” Commissioner Mahon said.

“Solicitors and Barristers have a duty and an obligation to ensure matters before the Court are conducted fairly and reasonably.”

“This becomes even more important in circumstances where the opponent is unrepresented and is clearly disadvantaged in both their knowledge of the law and their understanding of the legal process” Commissioner Mahon said.

In disciplinary proceedings before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), it was found that Mr Wrenn’s behaviour was in direct breach of rule 64 of the Barristers’ Rules.

QCAT found the protection of the community from unsuitable practitioners and the maintenance of proper professional standards was to be considered when determining the orders to apply.

QCAT found Mr Wrenn had engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct and ordered he be publicly reprimanded with restrictions imposed on his practising certificate, including 12 months supervised practice.

For more information on the case see Legal Services Commissioner v Wrenn [2020] QCAT 210