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Bar Talk
16 July, 2003  
Stevens told to cough up ancient financial records

Latest twist in the Clarrie Stevens’ spellbinder. NSW Bar & Grill wins right to subpoena bankrupt barrister’s financial history stretching back to the happy day of admission, October 1, 1977

Bankrupt tax barrister Clarrie Stevens QC, who managed to avoid paying tax for 21 years, has lost another round to the NSW Bar Association in his long running manoeuvrings to cling to the roll.

In today’s hearing (Wednesday, July 16) before Acting Justice Jerrold Cripps in the NSW Supreme Court, Christopher Wood for Clarrie sought to have three subpoenas issued to Stevens, his wife Thalia and the family trust company Waltkap set aside.

At the same time, Christine Adamson for the Bar & Grill, sought orders that Clarrie and his wife be orally examined as to why they hadn’t complied with the aforementioned subpoenas.

The subpoenas called for all of Clarrie’s, Thalia’s and Waltkap’s financial records since October 1, 1977, the date when young Clarence was called to the Grill.

A report prepared by the Bar Association shows that Clarrie failed to lodge a tax return from this date until 1998.

He was finally convicted in 2001 for failing to lodge tax returns for the years 1999 and 2000.

It was for these two offences as well as his failure to disclose them, that the Bar council resolved on October 10, 2002 to cancel his ticket.

But high-flying Clarrie wasn’t having any of it.

He quickly applied for, and was granted, a stay on the cancellation by Justice Greg James.

Bret Walker SC, President of the Bar Association, called James’ decision “scandalous”.

See Justinian’s previous report on L’Affair de Clarrie

It was overturned on appeal on April 24, 2003. On April 16, Clarrie declared himself bankrupt.

See report on Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal hearing on the Grill’s strike-off application was set down for June 2. It was adjourned to September 9 after Clarrie told the court he simply wasn’t prepared.

Presumably he was busy filing today’s motion. His affidavit claimed that the Bar Association’s subpoenas were nothing more than a “vexatious, oppressive fishing expedition”.

Wood argued that the scope of the subpoenas was too wide and that the Bar Association’s proceedings related only to the 1999/2000 tax offences.

Asking for Stevens’ financial records from 1977 just wasn’t relevant, Wood submitted.

Acting Justice Cripps didn’t appear entirely convinced, posing the question: “Is a barrister more disgraceful if he failed to pay $5 million in tax than one who has failed to pay $500,000 in tax?”

Adamson invited Cripps to consider this in the light of the fact that Stevens is “one of Her Majesty’s counsel” and that, “he [Stevens] might have known better”.

Adamson told the court Stevens had “drip-fed” only certain documents through his solicitors. She tendered an affidavit by accountant Dennis Robertson outlining why Stevens’ financial records since 1977 were fundamental to the inquiry.

“Questions of fitness and propriety are at large,” said Adamson. “The Bar Association must be able to investigate the fact that Mr Stevens didn’t file a tax return for 21 years; from the moment he went to the bar.”

Justice Cripps concurred.

He dismissed Stevens’ application to have the subpoenas set aside, saying the Bar council was “entitled to investigate aspects of Mr Stevens’ professional life well beyond 1999 and 2000”.

On the question of the oral examination of Clarrie and Thalia, Cripps said he was concerned that there should be no outstanding interlocutory matters before the Court of Appeal hearing on September 9.

He allowed the Bar Association until Wednesday July 30 to indicate if both the Stevens would be examined.

Given Clarrie’s past recalcitrance, it looks both necessary and likely.