The Justice Myth
The only creatures that should be caged behind bars are politicians, lobbyists, and lawyers. And rapists, but I’ve already listed that three times. ― Jarod Kintz
Fellow student and established psychologist Luciana Cruz and I fought Bond University for a year. We submitted complaints to every relevant organisation including the Australian Human Rights Commission. The AHRC upheld my complaint of disability discrimination and harassment and sexual harassment throughout their entire process. But the AHRC has no jurisdiction, no power – nothing. It exists to give the public a false sense of hope in justice for innocent victims. So when Bond University refused to attend AHRC conciliation, it marked the end of the AHRC’s involvement.
I needed a lawyer.
Not one single reputable Brisbane or Gold Coast law firm would take on our cases, on the basis that they had a pre-existing relationship with Bond University. Every pro-bono legal service refused to help, despite my qualifying for their services. NSW Disability Legal Services did not respond to my request for advice for four months, well past the date of support.
Luciana located Melbourne firm Madgwicks Lawyers to run our cases. Madgwicks employed Aichen Chambers to assist. My case centred on the AHRC complaint of sexual harassment and disability discrimination against Bond University. It also involved an administrative review of AHPRA.
In return for $15,000 in legal fees, Madgwicks did nothing for Luciana Cruz, did not even write a letter.
I paid far more for the nothing I received – $34,611.80.
When Luciana first contacted Madgwicks, one of their lawyers told me that I definitely had a case. I felt confident in that person who was respectful and demonstrated experience and knowledge. But after I had financially and otherwise committed to Madgwicks, my case was given to a trainee lawyer fresh out of university. The trainee demonstrated immaturity and a lack of experience and knowledge necessary to handle my case. It slowly emerged that she knew nothing about the National Health Act, human rights legislation, or any other legislation relevant to my case. She was obviously learning on the job, and learning very slowly. I basically paid to provide a student with some much needed work experience. It would be akin to someone paying an expert specialist psychologist’s hefty fee to a psychology intern.
I never once met a senior Madgwicks lawyer nor spoke with one over the phone.
The trainee wrote one strong letter to AHPRA; however, following a secret 2.5 hour meeting with Brin Grenyer, Chair of the Australian Psychology Board (the contents of which were never disclosed to me) this confident approach was immediately abandoned. Suddenly, Madgwicks suggested that I go through with attending AHPRA’s health assessment – the very thing I was advised by my GP and Professor Phillip Morris to avoid. I wanted to challenge the administrative process leading to the health assessment, and the fact that I was not afforded due process.
I paid for a secret meeting between Madgwicks and the Chair of the Australian Psychology Board, the detailed content of which was never disclosed to me. I asked specific questions about the meeting, the trainee did not answer these. I paid for multiple secret phone conversations between Madgwicks and AHPRA – the detailed content of which were never disclosed to me, despite my asking. The trainee giggled, ‘Oh, we said a few things to each other’ – that was the extent of her mysterious feedback. I was also kept in the dark about Madgwicks’ interaction with the AHRC. All I received were basic emails documenting that a meeting had occurred, and basically what had occurred, but zero detail. Madgwicks were constantly cagey.
When I complained about this lack of service in writing, I was charged for the Madgwicks to write a lengthy, defensive letter back to me. I was also charged for the trainee to consult her employer about the writing of this letter. Consequently, I felt bullied into not questioning anything further. I had also made such a financial commitment to Madgwicks that I could not afford to go elsewhere and start again. It was at that point that I really should have pulled out before I went on to spend a year’s wages. But I pressed on in the hope of achieving a decent specialist barrister for my human rights case which my Bond University supervisor, Dr Palk, encouraged I had.
Just two weeks prior to the deadline by which I had to lodge my AHRC case with the federal court, Madgwicks located a specialist barrister at Aickin Chambers, and arranged an appointment with him. My husband and I flew to Melbourne for what turned out to be a four hour meeting. During our meeting, the Aichen barrister treated me with utter contempt. He was insulting, mocking, and he expressed a deep anger at my willingness to freely verbalise my child sexual abuse history.
The Aichen Chambers barrister suggested that I should lie and deny my child sexual abuse history, and say that I had never disclosed it to anyone. He suggested that I say that I was ‘just having a wag’ with a particular Bond lecturer and friend to whom I disclosed my abuse. I responded that I had held the same testimony for over 20 years, that I had previously reported my abuse to the NSW police, and that I was not about to change my testimony now. At this, the barrister’s ruddy face contorted into thinly veiled rage. He spat: ‘Anyone with YOUR history [of child abuse] should have their ability to work in ANY profession questioned!’
The barrister bluntly refused to look at anything that might have built my case. He refused to consider the APS definition of student as being a client and a recipient of psychological services, as documented in the APS Ethical Guidelines. I asked the Madgwicks trainee to hand me the document from my file which stated that. She flatly refused and shook her head. I demanded she locate and hand over the document. She refused again.
During that meeting, it was revealed that Madgwicks had failed to provide Aichen Chambers with a copy of the medical report for which I had paid $2,000. Professor Morris’ report was crucial to my case. Madgwicks also failed to inform Aichen Chambers that AHPRA’s mishandling of cases like mine was currently the subject of a Senate Committee Inquiry to whom I made a submission. The Senate Committee damned the Queensland AHPRA office as completely incompetent.
Madgwicks Lawyers and Aichen lawyers dismissed hard evidence against Bond – legally obtained recordings during which Bob Montgomery (Australia’s highest profile psychologist, President of the APS, and former Professor of Psychology at Bond University) had damned Bond as corrupt and capable of setting up and discrediting students as they had done me. All they had to do was call Dr Montgomery to the witness stand and Bond would have folded.
On a matter of AHPRA subjecting me to public urination as part of a psychiatric examination, the Aichen barrister laughed and mocked in a sing-song tone: ‘Well?! It comes with the territory of being a psychologist!’ No – urinalysis is not a routine part of being a psychologist. It was obviously being employed to traumatise a survivor of child sexual abuse. I had no history of substance abuse to warrant urinating in front of two strangers, possibly men.
The Aichen barrister criticised me for including some points that he said I should not have in my AHRC application. I explained that I could not find a suitable lawyer to help me with my case due to Bond University’s extensive connections. (Bond paid lawyer Malcolm Turnbull $30k per month in consultation fees). Every suitable law firms repeatedly told me that they could not take Luciana and I on since they had a conflict of interest with either AHPRA or Bond University. Most firms had been employed by Bond, or else or their students did internships with Bond. Although I qualified for legal aid with two organisations, not one firm would take my case. A Sydney disability legal advice firm failed to contact me in over three months. Bond University and AHPRA had strategically lodged their complaints against me just before Christmas when most firms were winding down for the holiday season. Further, there was an AHRC time limit on reporting the incidents.
At this explanation, the Aichen barrister he raised his voice at me: ‘Oh, don’t give me that rubbish!’ He then told me that I sounded like a notorious pain of a woman who keeps complaining everywhere about being unfairly treated by a university. ‘Look her up!’ he waved at me. (Ironically, I was criticised for not being able to find a lawyer in time, while Madgwicks had not been able to find me a barrister in time for the AHRC deadline.)
Aichen Chambers did not methodically collect my arguments against Bond University and AHPRA in that meeting. Instead, every time I mentioned something in my favour, their barrister began debating with me and shooting me down. When I mentioned a point that he could not argue against, he ignored it. Anything that I said in jest during the marathon meeting, the barrister treated literally and he used against me and in his report.
While I can perhaps understand a lawyer’s need to test out a client’s potential to withstand cross examination in a court, what the Aichen barrister did to me far surpassed anything of that purpose. I have had court training and experience as a forensic psychology student and as a parole officer in two states. I had also previously excelled under cross examination in a personal case. What the barrister did was plain derogative abuse. I effectively paid Aichen Chambers $7,700 to verbally and psychologically abuse me for four hours.
By the end of the meeting, the barrister had still not made his intentions clear. He promised to look over my material and let me know his conclusions.
I left the meeting in a state of shock and trauma over the way I had been treated and at the awful realisation that my case had been sabotaged by my own legal team. I concluded that Madgwicks and Aickin Chambers had sold me out to Bond University, AHPRA and the Psychology Board.
Aichen Chambers left me with the impression that I was dirty and worthless as a person because I had been sexually abused as a child. Their barrister compounded exactly what Bond University and AHPRA did to me in their false notification. I broke down at the airport that afternoon in front of passengers.
The subsequent report that Aichen Chambers sent me misquoted me. It excluded every point that favoured my case. The report included any and every little point that exonerated and defended Bond University and AHPRA. It twisted my words in that meeting, and included things that I did not say. For example, I never called a certain Bond University psychology lecturer psychotic as the report alleged I did. I did explain that the lecturer had threatened to commit suicide to me, my husband, and another student, and had increased her psychiatric medication without consulting a doctor.
The Aichen barrister failed to include in his report one of the clearest arguments against Bond University and AHPRA that I raised at the end of our meeting. I said to him:
‘Apart from the research incident, every allegation of ethical misconduct was supposed to have occurred during trimester three, 2009. If these incidents were so important, why did Bond University pass me in those subjects during which the breaches allegedly occurred? And why, if they so constituted grounds for notification, did Bond University psychology lecturers wait a year to report them to AHPRA? The law says psychology lecturers must notify such concerns immediately.’
The barrister was stunned to silence. Yet this point in my favour failed to appear in his final report from that meeting – as did every other point in my defence and which supported my case against Bond University and AHPRA. He manipulated information.
Aichen Chamber’s report arrived the day before the AHRC submission deadline for proceeding to federal court. This left me no time to find a second, non-abusive opinion. When I complained about this to Madgwicks they advised me that I could quickly gather together a case and lodge it within 24 hours. That was impossible. Madgwicks then charged me for this complaint phone call plus the subsequent letter from the, regarding the matter. In this letter, Madgwicks retracted their advice of personally proceeding to federal court.
For many months, Madgwicks promised me that I had a case. But then they failed to do anything to help my case. The firm gradually drained my time and resources until I had no case, and nothing to fight it with. My legal team failed to follow up on my crucial request – my professional indemnity insurance that Bond University was mandated to take out for all students. That is the very insurance that protects students and psychologists against notifications, and which covers any legal costs incurred while defending notifications. If I was not covered, then Bond University had a legal requirement to warn students to seek their own private insurance on top of the $3,500 they pay per subject. Consequently, I lost my ability to defend myself further against Bond University and AHPRA.
Another basic fact overlooked by my legal team was that because I permanently resided in NSW, I never actually fell under the jurisdiction of the offending Queensland AHPRA office. I was under the jurisdiction of NSW and their Sydney office.
A further obvious, basic step that my legal team failed to do or even consider was to contact the police ministers in NSW and Queensland, and request an investigation into the alleged police involvement in Bond University and AHPRA’s accusations against me. My lawyers did not examine a simple question: If I were a criminal, how did I possess a Queensland blue card for the past two years? I pursued this matter. NSW and Queensland Police Ministers replied that the police did not possess any record of me being a criminal, and had not told AHPRA such. Thus this proved that AHPRA had lied in their administration of the notification against me. On the basis of this lie, I was stripped of my psychology registration and ordered for a health assessment.
Yet another questionable thing that Luciana Cruz and I realised was that Madgwicks did was double-up on charges. They charged Luciana and I full price for Madgwicks’ attendance at the secret meeting with the Psychology Board in Melbourne, instead of halving the cost between two clients.
Mdgwicks Lawyers never explained or presented me with evidence of what my money was being spent on. Their trainee seemed to do the work, and she went very slowly. I was charged for their trainee to gain a basic understanding of legal concepts, concepts which someone in her position should have already known. This might help explain why I was given such poor advice, and why essential legal tasks were never done – such tasks as obtaining insurance information from Bond University. This insurance was supposed to pay for any legal costs incurred as a result of someone notifying against me to AHPRA.
I was never provided with a comprehensive itemised breakdown of costs, even when my husband and I requested a detailed invoice. I later obtained my Madgwicks file and saw evidence of two different billing records. The bill we were sent contains a list of dates and services. A second bill format that was withheld from me additionally included the author of each job task, the length of time of each job task, and the cost of each job task. I was never provided with copies of the latter. An examination of this second billing had me questioning the legitimacy of some of the recorded costs, and the expediency of the work.
A letter dated 16/3/11 from Madgwick informed me that their original fee estimate (a copy of which I was never provided) changed because ‘this matter has taken longer to complete than anticipated and has become more complex.’ The matter took longer only because their trainee did not demonstrate the basic legal knowledge needed to process it at an expected speed. The matter’s complexity never changed – except according to the trainee’s understanding of it.
The 16/3/11 letter estimated that my legal fees would be $10 to 20k. Even after this revised fee estimate, the matter far exceeded the estimated amount. I was charged $27,000 for the same work. My accountant husband and I could not justify a final, delayed bill of $7,700 for Madgwicks’ work that we received months after our last contact with their firm.
My husband and I experienced severely delayed billing with Madgwicks. We saw McNab in July 2011. We were told that the anticipated cost of consulting Aichen Chambers would be $8,500, and to place this amount in trust. We did so. Aichen Chambers was the last service we employed Madgwicks for. Four months later, in November 2011, we first received two further bills from Madgwicks that they failed to send us. In Madgwicks’ files, these are dated 6/11/11. One bill was not itemised and it was for $7,700 for Aichen Chambers’ July work (which we expected was taken out of the $8,500 in trust). We also simultaneously received a second belated bill for $7,747 for Madgwicks’ alleged work in July relating purely to Aichen Chambers’ involvement. This second bill contained no details at all of dates, a description, or anything.
Before paying the last bill for Madgwicks’ July effort, I questioned the cost of the whole exercise. Madgwicks’ told me prior to July 2011, that the brief that eventually went to McNab, had in fact been ready for many weeks. So, I could not justify $7,700 worth of work on their part.
My husband asked Madgwicks for an explanation of these two bills, and for a breakdown of costs. At first we got a letter from them detailing the work she supposedly did in July. Madgwicks accountant, Johanna Jackson, agreed that Madgwicks’ letter did not answer our question. On 14/12/11, we requested by email a full review of the costs of my whole case, which amounted to approximately $27,000 for Madgwicks Lawyers, and $7,700 for Aichen Chambers.
Again we experienced delayed service. Four months later, in April 2012, I finally got a letter from Madgwicks saying that they had reviewed my costs and had decided that the overall fees were fair.
In our final correspondence with Madgwicks, my husband wrote:
‘Since our final meeting with Madgwicks Lawyers and Aichen Chambers, Fiona has obtained letters from both the Queensland and NSW police ministers denying any contact between the police and AHPRA. The ‘police statements’ can only have been fabricated by someone at AHPRA. I would have expected this to have been found out by our lawyer. We went to you looking for someone to take on the fight for Fiona and were sadly disappointed.’
I had achieved in two simple letters to two police ministers, what Madgwicks Lawyers could not in a six-month timeframe and a $37,000 budget.
In June 2013, I submitted a complaint against Madgwicks Lawyers and Aichen Chambers to the Victorian Law Commission who (typically) denied my claim citing a lack of evidence and an exceeded six month complaint time limit.
Sections of my complaint fell within the Child Abuse Royal Commission’s terms of reference, so I submitted a complaint to them also.
As I plough through my own law degree, I continue to encounter ethical breaches committed by Melbourne’s Madgwicks Lawyers and Aichen Chambers.