Hulls considers lawyer-client sex ban

By Fergus Shiel
Law Reporter
June 15, 2004

Should there be a rule banning lawyers from engaging in inappropriate sexual relations with clients?

Attorney-General Rob Hulls has asked the Law Institute of Victoria to investigate whether a professional practice rule is needed to deal with this ethical dilemma.

Mr Hulls said last week at the launch of an ethics handbook that all lawyers should know that acting for a client with whom they were having a sexual relationship was not recommended. But he said a common understanding to that effect was not enough given our heightened understanding of the impact of such activity on a lawyer's objectivity in recent years.

"This is not to suggest that such a practice is common but rather that, where it does occur, it can be a blatant abuse of the solicitor-client relationship and one which may have serious and damaging consequences for all involved," he said.

"In this vein, I am keen to ask the Law Institute to investigate whether there should be a specific practice rule which prohibits lawyers from having an inappropriate relationship with their client."

Earlier this year, Melbourne barrister Paul Reynolds, 47, had his practising certificate suspended for six months after he asked a client for sex during a pre-hearing conference at her home.

When the woman rejected him during a goodnight hug, Mr Reynolds asked her to "just let me feel those puppies then, they're beautiful". Mr Reynolds later offered an apology to the woman.

Law Institute president Chris Dale said the issue of sexual relations between lawyers and their clients was a complex one, as there were some circumstances where a relationship was appropriate.

He said if a lawyer was involved in a straightforward conveyancing matter and a relationship formed with a client, it was unlikely that one would need to have concerns.

But if a lawyer was involved in a family or criminal law matter where the client was vulnerable, forming a relationship could be inappropriate.