An Auckland lawyer who certified a fake marriage separation has been found guilty of professional misconduct.
Immigration lawyer Heval Hylan appeared before the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (LCDT) in December after he certified a separation despite the husband and wife still living together.
The wife was forced to sign the agreement so the husband could appear to be available in the eyes of Immigration New Zealand and his overseas "girlfriend" could get a visa.
In a decision released today, the prosecuting standards committee said Hylan knew the agreement represented a "false arrangement" and that he knew it was going to be used to mislead Immigration New Zealand.
"In those circumstances Mr Hylan was under a duty, and an obligation, to refuse to become involved and that he should have declined to involve himself with the agreement," the Standards Committee said.
Hylan told the tribunal he thought the marriage was over and the wife wanted to proceed with a separation.
He said he had "no idea" that the agreement was to be used to support a visa application and he did not know the wife had been coerced into signing it until months later.
The tribunal said Hylan's evidence was contradicted by a letter he had written to the Law Society when the matter was first investigated.
The letter said the husband, known only as Mr S, had threatened Mrs S and forced her to sign the agreement.
"It was clear to Mr Hylan that Mrs S was signing under duress and was 'very much under the control of her husband'," the tribunal said.
Hylan said he was mistaken in the timings he referred to in the letter, but the tribunal rejected that evidence.
"Having seen Mr Hylan give his evidence and respond to cross-examination the tribunal does have serious reservations about the accuracy of Mr Hylan's recollection in this matter," the tribunal said.
"His various explanations and claims are implausible, and do not fit proven facts."
The tribunal ruled that Hylan's conduct was "a long way below an acceptable standard" and was "clearly misconduct as charged".
"We should also signal that the tribunal considers the manner in which the charge has been defended, with implausible claims and, at best, significantly faulty recall, is a matter which does not reflect well on Mr Hylan and compounds the issue of his lack of probity and integrity demonstrated by his conduct in signing the agreement."
A penalty hearing is set for April 1.