Hawke's Bay Lawyers Standards Committee v Sacha Maria Beacham

 
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[2012] NZLCDT 29

NEW ZEALAND LAWYERS AND CONVEYANCERS DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL

CHAIR

Judge D F Clarkson

MEMBERS OF TRIBUNAL

Mr G McKenzie

Mr K Raureti

Mr T Simmonds

Mr W Smith

LCDT 024/11

LCDT 024/12

IN THE MATTER OF the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006

BETWEEN
Hawke's Bay Lawyers Standards Committee
Applicant
and
Sacha Maria Beacham
Lawyer of Hastings
APPEARANCES

Mr P Collins for the Applicant

Ms S Beacham in person

Decision of the NZ Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal as to penalty to be imposed on barrister who was convicted of drink drive offences and resisting and obstruction of police in execution of their duty — whether barrister's behaviour justified striking off or suspension; consideration of ‘misconduct’ in s7 Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

Held: The general principles in imposing penalties for professional disciplinary offending were stated in Daniels v Complaints Committee 2 of the Wellington District Law Society and Dorbu v New Zealand Law Society.

The concept of “fitness to practice” was not limited to professional competence or conduct generally in the performance of legal work. It included respect for, and observance of the law and the related notion of respect and trust between the law enforcement agencies and the legal profession, which was essential to the administration of justice.

There had been widespread media publicity about B's behaviour, both concerning the drink driving offence and the subsequent obstruction and resisting police charges.

There was no question that B's behaviour had reflected on her entire profession. Aggravating behaviour in relation to the latest incident was her assertion of her status as a lawyer in the course of the events.

B was clearly in denial about her alcohol dependence and that was a matter which needed to be taken into account by the Tribunal. Although apologetic and rather sorry for herself in terms of the loss of the career that she declared she loved, B did still not appear to have reached the point where she was prepared to seek the support that might have satisfied the Tribunal that she could safely engage in practise again.

B was given credit for moving to Auckland to change her lifestyle, however it was of some concern that she was working part-time in the hospitality industry, where alcohol must be a daily temptation. While her regret and apology appeared sincere, this did not equate with insight such as to reassure the Tribunal about rehabilitation.

B showed ability and promise as a lawyer. The Tribunal indicated its views as to the work B needed to do on herself before being able to practise again. By a fine margin, B was not struck from the Roll, but rather, she was suspended from practice for a period of two years from the date of the Penalty hearing pursuant to s242 LCA.

B was also Censured for her misconduct.

DECISION OF NEW ZEALAND LAWYERS AND CONVEYANCERS DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL ON PENALTY

Introduction
1

The practitioner pleaded guilty to three charges brought by the Hawke's Bay Lawyers Standards Committee.

  • (a) Charge dated 4 December 2011 in LCDT 24/11:

    • Hawke's Bay Lawyers Standards Committee charges Sacha Maria Beacham, Barrister, of Hastings, under s.241(d) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, she having been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment and the conviction reflects on her fitness to practise, or tends to bring her profession into disrepute.

    • Particulars

    • (a) On 19 August 2011, in the District Court at Auckland, she was convicted and sentenced for an offence against s.56(1) of the Land Transport Act 1998 (“LTA”), namely that she was driving a motor vehicle with excess breath alcohol, in circumstances where she had been convicted on two previous occasions for relevant offences under the LTA, on 27 July 2002 (excess blood alcohol) and 13 October 2007 (excess breath alcohol);

    • (b) Her conviction under s.56(1) LTA was punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding

    • (c) In the event, she was sentenced to a term of disqualification from driving for one year and one day and fined $1,200 and ordered to pay Court costs of $132.89; and

    • (d) The conviction reflects on her fitness to practise and tends to bring the legal profession into disrepute.

  • (b) Charge 1 in LCDT 24/12, dated 4 September 2012:

    • The Hawke's Bay Lawyers' Standards Committee charges Sacha Maria Beacham, formerly a barrister of Hastings, under s.241(d) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006; she having been convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment and those convictions reflect on her fitness to practise, or tend to bring her profession into disrepute.

    • Particulars

    • (a) On 22 June 2012, in the District Court at Hastings, she was convicted on two charges under s.23(a) of the Summary Offences Act 1981:

      • (i) That she resisted a Police Constable acting in the execution of her duty; and

      • (ii) That she intentionally obstructed a (separate) Police Constable acting in the execution of her duty;

    • (b) Convictions under s.23(a) of the Summary Offences Act 1981 are punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $2,000;

    • (c) In the event, Ms Beacham was fined $200 on each conviction; and

    • (d) The convictions reflect on her fitness to practice and tends to bring the legal profession into disrepute.

    • (c) Charge 2 in LCDT 24/12, dated 4 September 2012:

    • The Hawke's Bay Lawyers' Standards Committee charges Sacha Maria Beacham, formerly a barrister of Hastings, with misconduct, including misconduct under ss.7(1)(b)(ii) & 241(a) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

    • Particulars

    • (a) In the early hours of 31 December 2011, whilst a passenger in a car in which the driver was the subject of Police roadside excess breath alcohol procedures, she was abusive and obstructive towards the Police Officers attending on the driver, to the point where she was restrained and taken into custody, and arrested, which she resisted;

    • (b) Whilst in custody at the Napier Police Station she continued to conduct herself in an abusive and obstructive manner towards the Police Officers in attendance;

    • (c) During the course of a Police body search, whilst in custody, she behaved in an indecent and offensive manner towards the Police Officers in attendance; and

    • (d) At the time of these events she held a practising certificate as a barrister;

    • And she is thereby guilty of misconduct.

2

Before the Tribunal was the evidence of seven witnesses. Ms Beacham did not seek to cross examine any of the witnesses.

3

In the course of the hearing Ms Beacham was cross-examined by counsel for the Standards Committee and questioned by the Tribunal. Submissions were received from both parties and the Tribunal reserved its decision.

Background
4

The particulars of the offending are set out in the above charges. This practitioner was admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 9 September 2005 and over the past few years has been practising as a barrister sole in the Hawke's Bay region.

5

Over the past 10 years, she has been convicted on three occasions for drink driving offences. The first of these occurred while she was a student and the second two (the last of which is the subject of Charge 1) have occurred since she was admitted as a practitioner. The only information the practitioner has provided about her alcohol related behaviour is a statement to the Standards Committee which she made on 1 September 2011, supported by a letter from her counsellor. In that statement she acknowledged that:

“… clearly problematic use of alcohol is an automatic factor of the repeat offending. My offending is also a reflection of not keeping my emotions in check in terms of my personal life …”

6

Notwithstanding that acknowledgement and the acknowledgement that alcohol has caused significant problems in her personal life and:

” … subsequently in my professional life as a result of having incurred multiple convictions for the same type of offending.”

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