Should lawyers be punished more severely for breaking the law? Lisa Munro case

Criminal Law, Drug Offences, Recent News

A senior DPP solicitor has avoided a conviction for being caught in possession of cocaine.

In sentencing Lisa Munro, 33, yesterday, Local Court Magistrate Grogin remarked that he was punishing her as a member of the community, not because she was a solicitor caught with drugs.

This case raises some interesting principles: should solicitors be punished more harshly for breaking the law, given that they are bound to uphold it? Should criminal law solicitors, and prosecutors especially, be held to a higher standard? Yesterday’s judgment appears to answer in the negative.

The circumstances of the case were these: Lisa Munro was a high-profile prosecutor in the NSW DPP. At 9pm on 10 July 2015, she exited a taxi on Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point, got into the back of a parked car, got back out in less than a minute and hopped back into the taxi. The taxi drove around the corner and dropped her off in front of Woolworths. Plainclothes officers had been observing Munro’s movements and suspected that she had engaged in a drug transaction. They observed her to have white powder on the corners of her mouth and to be nervous. They stopped her and she placed her left hand into her jacket pocket and removed it with a clenched fist. Officers grabbed her right hand and found a package containing 0.65g of cocaine in it.

The sentencing Magistrate accepted that the public humiliation of Munro had been ‘enormous’, but a ‘loud and clear’ message had to be sent to the community that drug possession and use was not an acceptable way of living. Despite this, Munro was sentenced to one of the least severe penalty on the statute books – a section 10 good behaviour bond for 12 months with no conviction.

In a sense, the punishment is of little import as the damage is already done for Munro – she resigned from the DPP after she was charged and is unlikely to ever be able to work there again. She must also deal with disclosing the matter to the Law Society and face possible suspension of her practising certificate or being struck off the roll of lawyers. The reputational damage is significant, conviction or none. Had Munro been a professional of similar standing although not a lawyer, it is likely that she would have received the same sentence.

Should then, solicitors be held to a higher standard, and punished more severely, when it comes to breaking the law? Or is the professional and reputational damage which accompanies such behaviour remedy enough to punish people who are held to be members of an ‘honourable profession’?

Image credit:  Anthony Johnson and Sydney Morning Herald

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