Former Qantas and Jetstar employees who were forced to ditch their firm of solicitors over allegations of “gross incompetence” have had their application for non-lawyer representation dismissed.
The five former employees, who are suing the airline over its COVID-19 vaccination policy, told the Federal Court they have been left without legal representation after their previous firm’s alleged misconduct, including negligence and a failure to take instructions.
Justice Cameron Rangiah said he sympathised with the applicants, particularly because of the former solicitors’ “shoddy conduct” of the proceedings, “including their disorganisation and repeated applications for extensions of time to comply with procedural orders.”
The alleged misconduct even led to the “unusual step” of cost orders being made against the applicants because of their former solicitors’ inability to comply with court orders.
“The applicants’ frustration with the former solicitors’ conduct of the proceedings was entirely understandable,” Justice Rangiah said.
In previous judgments and reporting of the proceedings, they were represented by Rob Grealy of Australian Law Partners.
In an interlocutory application that first appeared before the court late last month, they sought to have a non-lawyer appear for them in the upcoming trial because their “trust in the legal system has diminished due to our previous experience with legal representation”.
The person they proposed as their representative through an enduring power of attorney, Spiros Kalotihos, told the court he had been in “effective control” of a paralegal company for 20 years and had appeared for “hundreds” of Victorian law firms who engaged him for legal research, investigations and court appearances.
This application was dismissed, particularly given Queensland’s – where the trial will be held – Legal Profession Act 2007 requiring that a person “must not engage in legal practice in this jurisdiction unless the person is an Australian legal practitioner”.
As Mr Kalotihos would “effectively be acting as a barrister” by making submissions and cross-examining witnesses, Justice Rangiah said he would be engaging in legal practice. Similarly, the enduring powers of attorney could not authorise him to do anything other than “that a person can lawfully do by an attorney”.
Further to this, however, Justice Rangiah took issue with Mr Kalotihos’s submission that he was familiar “with the court’s code of conduct” because the Federal Court has no code of conduct.
“There is nothing to suggest that Mr Kalotihos is sufficiently competent and familiar with the practices and procedures of the Federal Court or the substantive law to be able to provide adequate representation to the applicants,” Justice Rangiah said.
“(The code of conduct) casts substantial doubt upon whether Mr Kalotihos has any familiarity with practice in the Federal Court and the standards of conduct required of legal representatives.”
The former employees have alleged Qantas and Jetstar’s vaccination policy, which was the subject of their termination, was not lawful.