Ex-officer's snooping no bar to law, court rules

ROBERT KIDD
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2014

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A former policewoman found guilty of serious misconduct has become a lawyer despite opposition from the New Zealand Law Society.

In 2011 Emma Gibbs was the subject of an internal police inquiry after she accessed the national intelligence application database (NIA) 27 times between 2007 and 2010 for a personal investigation of her brother's ex-wife.

She feared her nephew was being exposed to methamphetamine use and manufacture while living with his mother.

She was proved correct.

In 2009 her snooping through the NIA system showed the ex-wife was living with two people charged with possessing methamphetamine.

In 2010 the ex-wife was arrested and charged with using and manufacturing methamphetamine.

Gibbs, a sergeant, continued to illegitimately access the NIA to check the progress of the court case against the ex-wife.

Gibbs' brother won primary care of his son.

But during custody proceedings the ex-wife realised someone had inside information on her arrest and she complained to police.

Gibb's behaviour was investigated and police found her culpable of serious misconduct and liable for dismissal. However, she was not dismissed.

At her own request she was demoted from sergeant to constable. She took unpaid study leave and in 2013, after 18 years of service, she resigned, hoping to pursue a career in law.

But in June 2013 the New Zealand Law Society declined her the certificate of character required to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor because of the misconduct and the breach of privacy.

The committee was also concerned the misconduct extended over a period of three years, when she was of a mature age and had been with the police force for 15 years.

Gibbs went to the High Court, which said it was satisfied Gibbs was "a fit and proper person" to become a lawyer.

The court acknowledged Gibb's serious misconduct and the potential it had to bring the police into disrepute, damaging their relationship of trust and confidence with the community.

However, it also recognised she acted out of a genuine and well-founded concern for her nephew's safety.

Her referees, including those in the police force, were unanimous in describing Gibbs as a person of complete integrity. They described her as forthright, honest and compassionate.

What was decisive in Gibbs having her application approved was her decision to advise the Law Society that she had been found guilty of serious misconduct.

"I am therefore satisfied that Ms Gibbs' misconduct between 2007 and 2010 does not disqualify her from admission as a barrister and solicitor," Justice Keane said.

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The court was not concerned that Gibbs would breach client confidence for personal advantage.

"We opposed the admission. The High Court decided otherwise and we respect the High Court's decision," a spokesperson for the New Zealand Law Society said.

- The Dominion Post

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