A lawyer who has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Victorian government on behalf of public housing tower residents who were shut inside their homes during Melbourne’s 2020 Covid lockdown is under investigation by the state’s legal services board.
The Melbourne-based lawyer, Serene Teffaha, who during the pandemic has appeared at anti-lockdown rallies and on YouTube with conspiracists such as the former celebrity chef Pete Evans, last week filed a class-action lawsuit in Victoria’s supreme court on behalf of the residents.
But the Guardian has confirmed Teffaha is the subject of an investigation by the Victorian Legal Services Board, the body charged with regulating the legal profession in the state.
While a spokesman for the VLSB said it did not comment on current investigations, in posts made on social media and in an interview with the Guardian, Teffaha claimed the authority had “threatened to cancel” her.
Teffaha was reportedly referred to Queensland’s legal services board last month by a magistrate after submissions she made in a case in that state.
According to a report in the Queensland Times, magistrate Anthony Gett referred her to that state’s Legal Services Commission over submissions in court that he said “may be prejudicial to or diminish the public confidence in the administration of justice”.
Teffaha had reportedly said a child taken by an alleged child-stealing syndicate had been “let down” by the police and judiciary and the court was “enabling” his abuse.
She told the Guardian that the complaint had been “transferred” to the VLSB, which had sent her correspondence “basically saying we’re going to cancel your licence”.
But while the initial referral appeared to relate to her comments in Queensland, the Guardian understands the VLSB may also be inquiring into the class actions she has raised money for throughout the pandemic.
Besides the estate towers class action, Teffaha has for months been raising money for a separate “national” class action lawsuit that would, she claims, encompass “any form of detention” during the pandemic including people stopped by border closures.
The broad-brush suite includes a swathe of other Covid-19 measures such as contact tracing, so-called “mandatory” vaccinations, mask-wearing mandates, “inappropriate requirements to undergo medical examinations” without “full and informed consent” and what she calls “inappropriate classification of cause of death as Covid-19”.
While the Guardian has not sighted the correspondence from the VLSB, Teffaha said she planned to release more information this week. She said the authority had sent her “a list of one million and one questions” including over the class action lawsuits.
“They want the details of all my clients, they want to know what my barristers think of the cases, they’re trying to speak on behalf of all my clients when not a single one of them has made a complaint against me,” she told the Guardian.
“I will be revealing everything and I will be defending myself. There is way too much corruption in this country.”
Teffaha’s rhetoric during the pandemic helped to make her a cause célèbre among the anti-lockdown activists who have emerged during the pandemic.
She claims to have raised in excess of $650,000 to run the broad-brush class action, which she says is being held in a trust account that she “hasn’t touched”, and told the Guardian she had “more than 5,000” people signed up as part of the still-unfiled lawsuit.
But she has also flirted with the conspiracy-minded elements of the movement. The Age reported in January that Teffaha had appeared at an anti-lockdown protest in Broadmeadows in which she described bureaucrats as “liars”, judges as “corrupt” and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) as “the most terrorist organisation”.
“We will keep calling them all out until there’s a revolution on the streets and if we need to shed blood for peace, then so be it,” Teffaha said at the protest, which she later clarified was not meant to be taken literally.
In August last year, she also appeared on a YouTube discussion with a number of high-profile Australian conspiracy theorists including Evans and the anti-5G activist Matt Lawson who has also attempted to distribute vaccine misinformation to aged-care homes during the pandemic. Teffaha has previously told the Guardian that her participation in the discussion did not amount to an endorsement of the views of people such as Evans, saying her concern was her clients.
The towers lawsuit lodged in the supreme court last week alleges the more than 3,000 residents in nine public housing towers subject to a five-day lockdown in July last year suffered “degrading” and “oppressive” conditions that breached their human rights.
It alleges the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, Idris Hassan, and his family were not given food for three days and survived on “nuts and beans” after they ran out of supplies. It also alleges Hassan and his son both suffered from asthma attacks after they ran out of medication during the lockdown.
Teffaha told the Guardian there were currently only “about seven” people signed onto the lawsuit, but that “hundreds” had expressed interest in joining.
“At the moment we’re also trying to notify the residents about the class action, but we will have a lot more who will join up, we just have to raise awareness that it is happening,” she said.
The lawsuit lists Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, Annaliese van Diemen, deputy public health commander, Finn Romanes, police commissioner, Shane Patton, and the state of Victoria as defendants.