On 4 September 2012 Slater and Gordon acknowledged the request from Ralph Blewitt's lawyers for Ralph to have access to the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc file then held at Slater and Gordon.
On 24 September 2012 Slater and Gordon's external legal firm, Arnold Bloch Liebler directly acknowledged that Slater and Gordon held documents regarding the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc.
On 11 October 2012 I published an interview with Blewitt in which he alleged Gillard wasn't present when he signed the Power of Attorney document she'd purported to have witnessed. That was a serious criminal allegation against GILLARD.
On Friday 12 October I wrote to GILLARD to ask if she had anything to say in answer to the serious allegations Ralph had raised against her.
On that same day something changed at Slater and Gordon. With serious criminal allegations swirling, suddenly there was no AWU WRA file and according to the firm, there never had been.
This is then MD Andrew Grech's on the record note to journalist Hedley Thomas on 12 October 2012.
Grech was then the MD of a public company as well as the principal of a law firm. Slater and Gordon Limited released this public statement on the matter.
Amazing what police with a warrant can turn up.
No record of a file hey Andrew?
These hand written notes are from Peter Gordon and Geoff Shaw.
There's a range of files that were held and retained by Slater and Gordon - including the AWU Workplace Reform Association and 3 conveyance/finance related files concerning the Kerr Street purchase. We'll have more on those other files shortly.
Grech's statement that Slater and Gordon were unable to find any record of a file being created re the AWU Workplace Reform Association is misleading and deceptive at best. Ralph should have had an automatic entitlement to see those documents concerning him. Gillard went out of her way to implicate Ralph at the Trade Union Royal Commission, painting him as her client in the AWU WRA matter. He should have been and remains entitled to any documents Slater and Gordon held.
If the AWU WRA file was destroyed in circumstances where there was a reasonable prospect that it would become evidence in a police investigation, then it's possible that serious criminal offences may have been committed.
Slater and Gordon has some explaining to do - to Ralph, to the public, to the Legal Services Board and arguably to the police.
As these events were unfolding in 2012, lawyer and reader JM wrote us this note about Slater and Gordon and the AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc file.
There is no doubt Gillard performed legal work for the AWU Workplace Reform Association.
There is also no doubt that this work was done on the premises of S&G.
As soon as S&G's management learnt of these matters, they should have immediately opened a file in the manner in which it should have been opened at the time the client gave instructions. In other words, S&G should have opened a client file, not an internal crisis management file.
The fact that some or all of the papers in Gillard's manila folder were not to hand is irrelevant. The file should have been opened and, as far as possible, reconstructed.
In my opinion, as a solicitor, this obligation is ongoing. In other words, the file should now be formally opened, allocated a file number and – to the extent possible – reconstructed. Depending on the terms of the partnership agreement at the relevant time, Gillard might be obliged to assist in this process.
Quite apart from the matter of proper procedure (I expect, but have not yet verified, that Victorian solicitors have and at that time had, a regulatory obligation to maintain files in respect of client matters), S&G might find it useful to have the file so that when the manila folder of papers next turns up they will have a proper place to return them.
JM led me to make some further enquiries - here is the Law Institute of Victoria's helpful commentary about the obligation to keep client files:
Q. How long must I store client files?
- How long must I store client files?
- There is a common misconception that files may be destroyed after seven years. Client files are trust property, held on behalf of the client.
- As a general rule, you should not destroy or dispose of files without the client's specific instructions.
- After seven years, if you want to dispose of files, you must first make reasonable efforts to contact the client for instructions.
- Only then, if you are unable to obtain instructions, you may think about destroying files without instructions. See section 7.2.16 of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (pdf).