In law, a conflict of interest may arise where a person (such as a lawyer) owes a duty to serve the interests of another person (such as a client) and is simultaneously serving the interests of a third party in relation to the same, or a related, matter.

This can make it difficult for the person who owes the duty to impartially advance the potentially inconsistent interests of the parties they are serving.

A conflict of interest may be considered to arise even if there is no improper or unethical conduct. Sometimes, the appearance or possibility of a conflict of interest may prevent a person from serving the interests of two or more parties.

Lawyers may experience a conflict of interest if they:

  1. Act against a former client in circumstances where they have information about the former client because of having previously acted for them.
  2. Act for both parties in a matter. For example, acting for both parties involved in negotiating the terms of a contract.
  3. Have a personal in the matter. For example, acting for a party on the sale of a property in which the lawyer has an interest.

What about Christian Porter’s Case?

Former Attorney-General Christen Porter had appointed Sue Chrysanthou SC to represent him in a defamation case against the ABC.

Jo Dyer, a friend of the woman who accused Mr Porter of rape, commenced legal proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia to prevent Ms Chrysanthou from representing Mr Porter based on an alleged conflict of interest.

The alleged conflict of interest arose from a meeting between Ms Chrysanthou and Ms Dyer in November 2020 in which Ms Chrysanthou was found to have received confidential information relating to the accusations against Mr Porter.

Federal Court Justice Tom Thawley held that the information provided by Ms Dyer to Ms Chrysanthou remained “relevant to the defamation proceedings brought by Mr Porter” and could represent a “danger of misuse”.

While it was accepted that Mr Porter may suffer prejudice on the basis that Ms Chrysanthou had already been working on his case for some time, the Court considered that he was able to obtain alternative representation. 

Mr Porter and Ms Chrysanthou have been ordered to pay Ms Dyer’s costs of the legal proceedings in the sum of $430,200.00.