Solicitor faces probe over conduct judge called 'outrageous'
The Law Society will investigate a complaint against a solicitor who represented a woman in her divorce despite having received confidential information from her husband when he was considering engaging the solicitor as his lawyer.
The society's president, Huen Wong, said it would begin investigating immediately while at the same time giving the lawyer a chance to state his case.
Wong was speaking after the Court of First Instance found on December 24 that the solicitor, Christopher Erving, had committed a breach of confidentiality and directed the Law Society to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him.
The case involves the divorce of Susan Berry, a doctor, from criminal barrister William Allan. Berry filed for divorce in 1994. The court proceedings that followed have been described as 'extremely acrimonious'.
Erving represented Berry even though before that, Allan's sister had revealed confidential information, including about Allan's stance and tactics in relation to the proceedings, when asking Erving about the possibility of his acting for the barrister.
Allan sued Erving and his law firm, Ng & Co, for exemplary damages. In the court's ruling on December 24, he won HK$2.14 million.
Wong said the Law Society had opened a file on Erving in response to a complaint made in 2004 but that it had been put on hold pending the outcome of Allan's suit against the solicitor. The society would now re-activate the file, he said.
Once the society has gathered the relevant information and documents, it will prepare a report for its investigation committee to consider. In appropriate cases, the standing committee on compliance will pass the matter to the convenor of the solicitors disciplinary tribunal to appoint a tribunal.
According to Allan's sister, several weeks after Berry filed for divorce, she called Erving to see if he could represent Allan. During the call, she revealed confidential information including her brother's bottom line on financial distribution, possible tactics and stance in the proceedings. Though Allan and Erving were scheduled to meet, they never did, and Berry engaged Erving to represent her.
Mr Justice Anthony To Kwai-fung said Erving had committed a knowing breach of confidentiality for gain. He then covered up the breach with two false affidavits and withheld certain material from the court.
'He is an officer of the court. He perjured and practised a fraud on the court. If such conduct is not outrageous and contumelious disregard of the plaintiff's [Allan's] right, what else can [be]?' To said in the ruling.
The judge directed the Law Society to consider removing Erving from the solicitors roll, saying the punishment might appear heavy, 'but nothing less would have been adequate for misconduct of such a gravity involving perjury and fraud on the court by its own officer'.
Allan took out his claim against Erving in 1994, but it did not go to trial until last year.
Erving could not be reached for comment.