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Rickards step closer to practising law

Published: 10:42AM Thursday November 13, 2008 Source: ONE News

Clint Rickards is one step closer to becoming a lawyer, after the Law Society gave him a certificate of character to allow him to be admitted to the bar.

The former Assistant Police Commissioner quit the police force in 2007 and had been studying law at the University of Auckland after being acquitted of historical sex charges arising from events in the 1980s.

The news is unwelcome to the woman who tried and failed to stop his bid to join the profession.

Louise Nicholas says the decision will erode the public's faith in the legal system, and that she has been 'floored' by the news.

She says her heart goes out to those who will need to face him in court room.

In a written statement Rickards says the approval of his application was to be expected, and that he is looking forward to his new career.

He plans to use his new profession to focus on Maori issues and help those who are not able, or cannot afford, to access legal assistance.

Rickards' lawyer says any other decision would have been unjust.

"Unless entirely lacking in objectivity, anyone sitting throughout both trials would have regarded his evidence as truthful and reliable," a statement from John Haig QC says.

A law expert agrees unproven allegations hold no ground. But she has concern over comments he made after his acquittal about his two co-accused Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton, both already jailed for rape.

At the time Rickards said that the pair were "good friends of mine, they always will be, they shouldn't be where they are."

"He wants us to respect the jury verdicts in his cases, but he doesn't seem to respect the jury verdict in their case," says Selene Mize, Otago University law expert.

Every application to practise law requires a certificate of character from the Law Society, to which lawyers and members of the public can make submissions. In Rickards' case, there were numerous responses, both supporting and opposing the admission.

After considering all the matters raised by the submitters and other material, the Law Society's Fitness for Practice Committee formed the view that there are insufficient grounds to refuse a certificate of character.

Rickards was suspended from the police on full pay in February 2004 when an investigation was launched into the Louise Nicholas rape allegations.

He and former police officers Schollum and Shipton were acquitted of the allegations, but the case prompted an internal police investigation into Rickards' behaviour.

He had been due to face an internal disciplinary hearing after being accused of 11 charges of misconduct, but the hearing never took place, with his resignation bringing his dispute with the police to an end.

In reaching its certificate of character decision, the committee noted that the trials involved conduct that occurred over 20 years ago; Rickards had since had a distinguished career in the police; and that he was acquitted of the historic charges.

If the Law Society refuses a certificate of character, the applicant can apply to the High Court for admission and, in other cases, the court has taken a "forward looking" approach, the committee says.