Court upholds lawyer Barbara Etter’s suspension from practicing

Barbara Etter (centre) speaks with supporters outside court on Monday.
Barbara Etter (centre) speaks with supporters outside court on Monday.

Sue Neill-Fraser’s former lawyer Barbara Etter has called for the State Parliament to review the “checks and balances” on Tasmania’s legal watchdog, after the Supreme Court ruled she should continue to be barred from practicing law.

In Hobart on Monday, Justice Helen Wood handed down a judgment on behalf of the full court relating to an appeal from Ms Etter.

Justice Wood and acting Justice Shane Marshall agreed with Justice Stephen Estcourt’s decision to dismiss the appeal.

Ms Etter, formerly the Integrity Commission boss, was appealing against the Legal Profession Board’s decision to suspend her practicing certificate.

The LPB was called on to investigate Ms Etter following a complaint about her conduct in a coronial inquest.

Ms Etter had acted for Pauline Greer in a fresh inquest into the 2007 death of her mother, Sally, initially ruled a suicide.

But Coroner Olivia McTaggart upheld the original decision and said Ms Etter had made “baseless allegations” about the deceased’s husband and son.

Ms Etter’s client believed her father and her brother, Robert, had had something to do with the death.

Robert Greer subsequently lodged a complaint about Ms Etter’s conduct during the inquest to the LPB, which prompted a board investigator to issue a notice to Ms Etter requiring her to provide the board with her case file.

Ms Etter refused, leading to the suspension of her practicing certificate.

In 2017, Supreme Court Justice Gregory Geason ruled that Ms Etter’s certificate should remain suspended and that she needed to provide the board with the requested case file.

Ms Etter appealed against both rulings.

On Monday, Justice Estcourt also released his reasons for dismissing the appeal, adopting the same reasons set out by the LPB in its own submissions.

“I formally adopt them as my reasons for concluding that there is no merit in any of those grounds,” he said.

In a statement, Ms Etter described her recent experience as “harrowing” and said she had always acted in the best interests of her client and, indeed, the state.

“Here in Tasmania it appears that there are too few checks and balances on the powers of the Legal Profession Board,” she said.

“I urge Parliament to take steps now to ensure that the proper checks and balances are imposed by amendments to the Legal Profession Act.

“If that does not happen then other lawyers of integrity will be subject to the harrowing and stressful experience that I have had.”

The court was adjourned to allow Ms Etter to prepare submissions responding to the LPB’s request for her to pay its legal costs.