Hart's punishment "excessive", says lawyer

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 17:02 10/12/2012
Barry Hart
PHIL DOYLE/ Fairfax NZ
LEGAL BATTLE: Barry Hart.

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Struck off lawyer Barry Hart has been singled out for punishment because he was prepared to ''stand up to the system'' and that may have made him ''unpopular in some circles'', his lawyer says.

A veteran of criminal defence law, Hart is appealing against being struck off as a barrister after being found guilty of professional misconduct earlier this year.

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found that Hart had overcharged fees, obstructed an Auckland District Law Society investigation and did not pay the full amount to a private investigator he had hired.

Lawyers for Hart, who also faces bankruptcy proceedings later this week after ANZ Bank went after him for $30 million, told the High Court at Auckland today the perceived overcharging was not grounds for ending Hart's illustrious legal career.

Hart's lawyer Jeremy Bioletti argued the clients who said he had overcharged them had actually received value for their money.

Lawyers for the New Zealand Law Society previously argued the work Hart had done for a particular criminal client could have been done for $15,000, instead of the $35,000 that Hart charged.

But Bioletti said that clients paid lawyers for results, and Hart had succeeded in securing both name suppression and bail for his client whose offending was at the top end of Crimes Act offences.

''People spend millions of dollars defending themselves from criminal charges in this town,'' Bioletti said.

He said it was a failure in Hart's communication of the costs that led to the overcharging complaint, not a systematic exploitation of vulnerable people.

If he was in the wrong, the striking off penalty was excessive and there were other sanctions that could have been placed on Hart instead, he said.

Hart's lawyers also argued that the decision of the tribunal to proceed with the hearing despite Hart being unable to attend because of illness led to a miscarriage of justice.

Hart had intended to defend himself at the hearing but instead supplied a doctor's certificate which said he was not fit to work.

The tribunal decided to continue with the hearing because it had already been delayed a number of times, mostly due to Hart's actions.

The hearing continues.

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