Law Society of NSW v Singh [2010] NSWADT 26

Jaskaran Singh, a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, was born on 1 October 1954 in Punjad, India. He attended Punjabi University in Patiala and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1975. He enrolled at the Gahrwal University and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1976, and worked as a legal practitioner in Nawanshahr.

In November 1987 Mr Singh migrated to Australia with his wife and two children who at that time were 3 and 1 years of age. He obtained work in an Aluminium Processing Factory. He then obtained a job with the State Rail Authority as a train guard where he continued to work for 10 years. Whilst working as a train guard he enrolled in the Legal Practitioners Admission Board course at the University of Sydney and in 1995 he obtained a Diploma of Practical Law Training at the College of Law and on 7 July 1995 he was admitted to the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Between 4 December 1995 and 1 July 1998 he was registered as a Migration Agent with the Migration Agents Registration Authority.

In or about 1996 he met a George Caristo and as Mr Singh wanted to gain experience in a legal practice he worked with Mr Caristo several days a week without fees. On 16 August 1998 he commenced employment with George Caristo however; he did not receive any wages. The terms of his employment were that Mr Singh would introduce clients to Mr Caristo’s practice, especially those in the Indian community. On 25 November 2001 Mr Singh left the employment of Mr Caristo and was granted an unrestricted practising certificate on 28 November 2001. Thereafter, Mr Singh worked in the garage of his home.

Mr Singh’s eldest son was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. His condition was a very serious one and he was admitted to hospital on a number of occasions over many years. Mr Singh’s son also suffered from significant behavioural problems including violent outbursts and delusional thoughts and was admitted to the Westmead and Cumberland Hospital.

Mr Singh’s son, as is often the case, involving children with disabilities, had a particularly close and loving relationship with his parents and in particular his father. Much of Mr Singh’s time was spent not only trying to cope with conducting a legal practice with limited financial resources but also caring for his significantly disabled son. Apart from his son, Mr Singh’s wife also had a history of quite significant illness and required ongoing medical treatment.

Mr Singh submitted to Mara a statutory declaration dated 30 November 2001 in connection with his Application for Registration as a Migration Agent. In that declaration Mr Singh said that he had not given immigration assistance while not registered other than that which he had declared in the statement.

Mr Singh admitted various grounds in the application by the Law Society and they made findings that Mr Singh was guilty of professional misconduct. The Tribunal noted that Mr Singh had asserted that it was not his intention to mislead MARA and that he was extremely sorry for what had occurred.

Mr Singh relied upon evidence of Dr Olav Nielssen who diagnosed him as suffering from a depressive illness, such diagnosis being dependent upon the history as provided by Mr Singh. Dr Nielssen also relied upon other medical evidence including that of a Dr Wadhera.

The Law Society of New South Wales maintained that the conduct of Mr Singh was such that his name should be removed from the Role of Legal Practitioners. Mr Walsh disputed this approach and submitted that having regard to all of the circumstances of the case the protection of the public does not require that Mr. Singh be struck off the Role. Greg Walsh took the Tribunal to a number of authorities which have been referred to in the judgment such as Law Society of New South Wales v McElvenny [2002] NSWADT 166; Ziems v The Prothonatory of Supreme Court of New South Wales (1967) 97 HCR 279; Fraser v Council of the Law Society of New South Wales (1992) NSWLST 6; Re: Demetrios [1993] LPDR; Law Society of New South Wales v Walsh (unreported decision December 1987).

The Tribunal publicly reprimanded Mr Singh and required him to provide undertakings in respect of Course in Practice Management and Ethics and fined him $2,000.