Thursday 23rd June 2005


Once evidence is transcribed...

Decisions not compromised by time

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Privy Council

Effect of delay by Attorneys’ disciplinary body

Law Report by Mark James Morgan, Attorney-at-Law

Before Lords Hope of Craighead, Scott of Foscote, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood & Sir Swindon Thomas

Appeal 73 of 2001; Wilston Campbell –v- Davida Hamlet (executrix of Simon Alexander)

Judgment dated April 25, 2005

The facts

In February 1987, Simon Alexander made a complaint of professional misconduct to the Attorneys’ Disciplinary Committee against Mr Campbell, a lawyer, claiming that he had paid Mr Campbell $29,400 for the purchase of some land but that the lawyer had neither conveyed the land nor returned the purchase price to him.

Hearing on preliminary issues began in November 1987 and on the substantive issue in February 1988. The hearing lasted ten days stretched over a ten-month period ending on December 6, 1988 when there was a final adjournment for attorneys’ addresses.

Eight years later on October 29, 1996 the committee produced its findings and records in which it found the allegations of professional misconduct substantiated and ordered Mr Campbell to repay Mr Alexander the $29,400 with interest from the date of the Order together with costs.

His appeal to the Court of Appeal having been dismissed, Mr Campbell appealed to the Privy Council claiming (for the first time) that the committee’s eight-year delay was manifestly unfair to him and led to deficiencies in its judgment.

The judgment

The Privy Council indicated that there could be cases where a delay might so adversely affect the quality of a decision that it could no longer be allowed to stand, for example where the judge’s ability to deal properly with the issues had been compromised because his recollection of important matters was no longer sufficiently clear or if his notes had been mislaid.

However in this case the committee’s ability to decide the case was not compromised; it had transcripts of all the evidence and it was well able to provide a reasoned decision in reliance upon them.

The Privy Council further observed that on the contrary it was the lawyer who benefitted from the delay since though the evidence against him was overwhelming and the complaint was likely to be found proved, he was able to retain and make use of the disputed monies over the eight-year period.

That the only injustice caused by the committee’s delay was to Mr Alexander who never lived to see the money repaid and whose estate had yet to receive it.

The appeal was accordingly dismissed.


Mr Beharrylal for Mr Campbell.


The Privy Council was harsh in its criticism of the committee’s delay in giving the judgment which it described as “deplorable”, “highly reprehensible and unforgivable.”

They were also highly critical of the committee’s leniency stating:

“Even when judgment was eventually given, indeed, so far from the appellant being penalised for his professional misconduct, all that was ordered was that he should at last refund the respondent’s monies, with no back interest at all, merely interest from that day forward until payment.

“No sanction whatever was imposed upon the appellant despite Parliament’s apparent assumption, implicit in section 39 (1) of the 1986 Act, that an attorney found guilty of professional misconduct should be fined or reprimanded besides being ordered to pay costs and any relevant compensation.”

The committee is made up only of lawyers.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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