Commission suspends Seruvatu’s legal practising certificate

Picture: FILE

A LEGAL practitioner has had her practising certificate suspended and ordered to pay $2000 to the Independent Legal Services Commission and $1000 to the Chief Registrar.

Alofa Seruvatu, 61, had earlier pleaded guilty to a count of professional misconduct before the commission’s commissioner Dr Thomas Vincent Hickie.

Ms Seruvatu was admitted to the Bar in Papua New Guinea in 1991 and joined the Fiji Bar in 1996.

She served as a judicial officer in Fiji from 2007 until 2012 before she returned to private practice.

In a disciplinary sanction passed by commissioner Justice Daniel Goundar, the commission heard that Ms Seruvatu had failed to respond to a complaint notice sent to her by the Chief Registrar despite a subsequent reminder.

The commission heard that on December 17, 2017, a former client of Ms Seruvatu had lodged a complaint against her with the CR, claiming issues of delay, negligence, overcharging, incompetence and action without instructions.

Justice Goundar said on May 16, 2018, the CR informed Ms Seruvatu in writing about the complaint and was given a notice to respond to the complaint by June 7, 2018.

The commission heard that Ms Seruvatu failed to respond by the said date and asked for extensions.

However, after numerous extensions, Justice Goundar said the lawyer did not respond.

He said the imposition of the sanction was also delayed because of Ms Seruvatu’s unavailability on medical grounds.

“In the present case, the legal practitioner admitted she did not respond to the complaint as required by the Act that regulates the duties and responsibilities of legal practitioners. She also prolonged the process to respond,” he said.

“She gave numerous excuses, the main being ill-health.

“However, ill-health did not impair her from practising law. She continued practising while her response to the complaint of professional misconduct was pending.”

Justice Goundar said Ms Seruvatu only responded on February 15, 2019, nearly nine months after she was notified of the complaint.

“The misconduct is relatively serious.

“The public expects the legal practitioners to maintain a reasonable standard of competence and diligence by timely responding to complaints of professional misconduct against them.

“When the legal practitioners deviate from that responsibility, the purpose of sanction is to bring home the message that they will be held accountable.”

The commission has also ordered that Ms Seruvatu be publicly reprimanded.

Her practising certificate is suspended until she pays the costs in full to both parties.

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