Nov 30, 2020

Bringing the Profession into Disrepute

Hughes v. Law Society of New Brunswick, 2020 NBCA 68 (CanLII)

Some professions include in their definitions of professional misconduct some aspect of conduct that brings their profession into disrepute. In Hughes v. Law Society of New Brunswick, 2020 NBCA 68 (CanLII), http://canlii.ca/t/jb187 the Court considered that definition. It applied, without accepting as correct, the interpretation by the disciplinary tribunal that the definition meant the public perception of the practitioner’s conduct.

The practitioner had a dispute with a short-term domestic partner when he asked her to leave his home. The only admissible evidence about the incident was that he tried to retrieve his house keys from her purse and then tried to hold his partner’s telephone until she handed over the keys. The admissible evidence also was that his partner was younger and stronger than him and that she assaulted him. When the police were called he was charged. Eventually he agreed to sign a peace bond to resolve the charges.

The Court found that simply being charged with an offence or signing a peace bond was insufficient, in itself, to constitute professional misconduct. The Court also rejected the assertion that the facts created a public perception that would bring the profession into disrepute.

On the facts that were before the panel, such a reasonable and properly informed public would: (1) understand that Mr. Hughes was the victim of assault on the night in question; (2) know Mr. Hughes co-operated with the authorities throughout; (3) be uncertain of the reason why it was him who was charged and not the other party; (4) understand the inherent risks of a trial where the testimony of one is pitted against that of another; (5) know of the Crown’s offer and defence counsel’s recommendation to resolve the matter by a peace bond without any admission of guilt; and (6) know Mr. Hughes complied with the provisions of the peace bond. In these circumstances, it is simply inconceivable there would be negative public perception “upon the integrity of the profession and the administration of justice.”

On such a finding, the relevant surrounding circumstances are critical.