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Bar Talk
17 October, 2003  
No ticket to ride for Cameron

Double bankrupt Bob Cameron wants his ticket back, but the NSW Bar & Grill plans to have him spanked by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. Now Bob’s off to court to fight the Grill’s “biased” resolutions

imageTwo-time bankrupt barrister Robert William Cameron is not a happy camper.

Right now he’s holed up in a two bedroom fibro house in North Curl Curl fuming over the bar council’s refusal to issue him with a practising certificate for 2003-2004 and its decision to commence professional misconduct proceedings against him.

For his part Cameron has filed a summons in the Supreme Court challenging the bar council’s resolutions and accusing it of bias.

According to documentation sighted by Justinian, Cameron (rightly or wrongly) harboured “reasonable expectations” his ticket would be renewed at a Bar Council meeting on July 17, 2003.

Cameron had been without a practising certificate for a total of 12 months over two fiscal years – a period he describes as being “in the sin bin” and “enough of a penalty”.

He reckoned he shouldn’t be “permanently damned” since he had discharged a debt to the Australian Taxation Office of $186,200 in October 2001.

He has other beefs concerning the bar council “process”.

His request to be present at a meeting of the council on July 17 when it was deliberating on his matter was deemed “inappropriate” and turned down.

He says an undertaking sought by the council in a letter of March 25, 2003 that he refrain from applying for a practising certificate at “any time in the future”, is unduly oppressive and unacceptable. He declined to give the undertaking.

That letter also indicated the council was considering making a complaint against him to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal under Part 10 (sections 134 and 137) of the Legal Profession Act.

One wonders why Cameron couldn’t see it all coming.

His ticket had been cancelled twice before – from December 2001 until May 2002 when it was restored by the Court of Appeal, and from December 2002 to June 2003.

This last cancellation was called for by Cameron himself midway through his appeal in December 2002 before Acting Justice Cripps.

Apparently he was rudely awakened to the fact that he should have disclosed six tax offences prior to 1989 as well as the three in 1996, 1997 and 2000 that he had disclosed.

According to correspondence from Cameron to the bar, the council subsequently conceded that these six convictions were not notifiable, since they were outside the ten-year period.

However, in a letter to Cameron’s solicitors, McLaughlin & Riordan, dated July 22, 2003, chief licenser at the Bar & Grill, Bret Walker, said:

“Given the circumstances in which his appeal was dismissed, Mr Cameron must have appreciated that the Bar Council would be required to consider whether he is now a fit and proper person to hold a practising certificate.”

The council then asked Cameron to explain, in writing, “certain conduct” including his non-payment of income tax, his tax convictions, payments to his family trust company Edsprey Pty Ltd and a host of “misleading statements”.

His response of July 28, 2003, though detailed and lengthy, failed to impress the council.

In relation to his non-payment of tax, Cameron explained:

“I have difficulty in accepting the proposition that where family obligations are competing with income tax obligations at one and the same time, one should always prefer the tax obligations.”

This privileged view of life was given short shrift in the council’s reasons for refusing Cameron a new ticket.

“The Bar Council notes that PAYG employees do not have a choice whether to prefer their family obligations to their tax obligations since they receive only their net after-tax income. Barristers technically have a choice, since they can choose not to comply with their obligations to pay tax, and evade such obligations by bankruptcy. But when they do so, as Cameron has done, particularly when the failure covers decades, it can be no defence to say that the money was spent on school fees.”

While Cameron claimed, “I do not view, nor have I ever regarded the payment of income tax as optional”, the council found otherwise:

“From 1977 until the payment on 30th October 2001, Cameron made only two sets of voluntary payments in discharge of his tax liability: the first in the amount of $1,544.08 in February 1980 and the second in the amount of approximately $1,400 in 1992/93.”

The council was just as sceptical about Cameron’s character:

“He has endeavoured to paint a portrait of himself as a well-meaning, but disorganised man who has been unlucky with financial decisions and whose only failing is his desire to support his large family. The Bar Council does not accept his self-portrait as consistent with the objective facts.”

Cameron’s two bankruptcies and his management of Edsprey, the family trust company, also came under attack:

“He siphoned off, for the benefit of his family, any surplus funds which he was able to generate to Edsprey, in such a manner as to remove them from the reach of his creditors…”

The council was unswayed by Cameron’s discharging of his tax debt in October 2001:

“The Bar Council infers that the payment was only made to lessen the risk of Cameron’s practising certificate being cancelled… Had it not been for the amendments to the Act … there is every reason to believe he would have gone bankrupt again…”

The tax offences themselves (all nine of them) were described in the Bar & Grill’s reasons as “not isolated peccadilloes” but rather “manifestations of a long-standing non-compliance with and reckless disregard of, his legal obligations to lodge tax returns in a timely fashion…”

Cameron’s plea that he was not “anywhere near the category of Cummins, Somosi, Archer and Stevens” also didn’t wash. The council said:

“Nothing in the 2003 material supplied by Cameron displays awareness or contrition in relation to his conduct.”

Cameron’s cheque to the NSW Bar Association for $1,994 for a 2003-2004 practising certificate was returned.

No doubt he’ll need every cent to answer in the ADT the ten grounds on which he is charged with professional misconduct.