The Courier Mail today reports that Former Bundaberg hospital surgeon Jayant Patel is suing his defence team for $884,000.
The article suggests that Dr Patel’s case is that his solicitors and barrister were too inexperienced to properly defend him, and this inter alia resulted in them failing to obtain full particulars of the charges, a comprehensive signed written proof of evidence containing his responses to the charges or consider the need to retain expert evidence to rebut medical expert witnesses’s allegations regarding his competence to perform the operations.
There are many aspects to the solicitor-barrister relationship. In some ways the relationship is symbiotic: solicitors need barristers when a case requires specialist advice or is going to trial, and barristers need solicitors to refer work to them. It is certainly in the interests of solicitors to have good relations with at least some barristers and vice versa. However, many (but not all) barristers consider themselves to be the more senior arm of the profession, to the chagrin of solicitors.
When a barrister is instructed by the solicitor, the two act as a team in preparing for and presenting the client’s case. The solicitor’s role is to obtain the client’s instructions, sort the facts in a digestible format for the barrister and to gather the relevant information and evidence in preparation for hearing. The barrister on the other hand provides advice and performs the advocacy work in court. When the solicitor and barrister work well together, that is to the benefit of the client, whose chances of a favourable outcome are increased.
However, two recent Discipline Applications brought against solicitors in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) show that disputes can arise between solicitors and barristers that can have serious consequences for the legal practitioner found to have acted unethically.