Lawyers and the media, another reminder

Lawyers must protect and hold in strict confidence all information concerning a client. A recent decision from the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal serves as a reminder.

In 2019, lawyer Richard Peters represented Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant as a duty solicitor. Unsurprisingly, he was approached by numerous media outlets for comment. The Tribunal decision mentioned more than 30 approaches by the media. Mr Peters made some comments to Otago Daily Times while in the Court room and later agreed to an interview with Radio New Zealand. He did not seek the client’s instructions on this.

Even though his client never complained about it, and there was no prejudice to the client’s trial, the Tribunal made a finding of misconduct saying that members of the public must be able to speak with their lawyers with complete confidence and trust that their communications and presentation will remain private. The Tribunal said that lawyers must be able to hold to their obligations of confidentiality even in stressful and difficult circumstances.

National Standards Committee 1 v Peters [2020] NZLCDT 34