Australia: Lawyers Weekly – Student claims legal admission board discriminated against disability

A former law student demanded the Legal Profession Admission Board (LPAB) publicly apologise and hand over more than $45,000 after it refused to allow him to study legal subjects out of order.

The Federal Court of Australia refused former law student Daniel Makowski’s request to bring proceedings against the LPAB on the grounds that it discriminated against this mental health disability.

Mr Makowski attempted to argue the board discriminated against him in refusing to relax progression rules that would have permitted him to study subjects despite not completing the prerequisite courses.

The Federal Court heard it was Mr Makowski’s fourth attempt to bring similar action against the LPAB after he failed to do so in the Supreme Court of NSW, the Court of Appeal and the High Court.

The court was told the LPAB received an application to relax progression rules in 2018 and allowed Mr Makowski to retake the failed subject “04 Contracts” alongside “05 Real Property” and “06 Australian Constitutional Law” during the following term.

Mr Makowski did not attend the exams for Contracts or Australian Constitutional Law, later telling the LPAB that he had “absolutely no confidence” sitting in the latter subject again “for fear of being at the arbitrary whims of a lecturer teaching a highly subjective subject”.

In May 2019, Mr Makowski applied to relax the progression rules again so he could take two subjects without completing Contracts or Australian Constitutional Law — which were prerequisites — but was told he could not “depart from the usual course”.

Mr Makowski attempted to appeal this, but it was refused.

LPAB explained both subjects provided a “good basis”, and the information is “fundamental to undertaking the rest of his subjects”.

“Other than dissatisfaction with the way his assignments have been marked, the student has advanced no substantive reason as to why he should be granted permission to study subjects out of order,” LPAB explained to the Federal Court in its submissions.

The following month, Mr Makowski made a third application, but this time cited his mental illness as a reason for relaxing the rules.

When this was again rejected, Mr Makowski made an application for the board to review their past two decisions, but this was maintained.

The board found that while Mr Makowski’s disability provided a “proper basis” for special arrangements in his exam periods, the board was not satisfied his disability “provides a justification for the relaxation of rules to enable him to take subjects in the order he seeks”.