‘What has the Law Society ever done for us?’ is a refrain occasionally repeated on legal message boards and comment threads.
‘Much’, Chancery Lane might seek to retort this week.
The representative body is on something of a roll. A month ago, in The Law Society, R v The Lord Chancellor, the High Court threw out controversial criminal legal aid reforms that would have slashed payments to litigators for Crown court work.
If that was a ‘ray of light’ for the justice system, as the Society maintained, even better was to follow. In a landmark judgment last week, the appeal court robustly reasserted the privileged relationship between client and solicitor in a case that has been watched closely by in-house lawyers in particular.
Chancery Lane intervened in Director of the Serious Fraud Office v Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, aided by Dinah Rose QC, to whom solicitors owe yet another vote of thanks. Rose also acted in the legal aid JR – and for the trade union Unison in 2017 when the Supreme Court so magisterially junked employment tribunal fees.
Society president Christina Blacklaws summarised what was at stake: the rule of law depends on all parties being able to seek confidential legal advice without fear of disclosure. If the High Court’s decision had stood, any organisation facing a prosecution – not just multinationals, but charities, newspapers, small businesses, councils – could have had to turn over private communications with their lawyers. At the time of writing, the SFO had yet to decide on whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
An early challenge, then, for new SFO director Lisa Osofsky – and for the profession, a challenge that could hardly be better timed. Delivering her first speech in the role last Monday, Osofsky was at pains to offer a collegiate vision of how she intends to fight the world’s most sophisticated criminals, adding that she will be reaching out to solicitors and other lawyers for their ‘input and ideas’.
Let’s hope she means it.