Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall - Public Administration Committee Contents


Memorandum from the Solicitors Regulation Authority

  Thank you for inviting the SRA to provide a written submission to the Public Administration Select Committee's inquiry into lobbying. Please accept this letter as our submission.

  We are confining our comments to the issue of client confidentiality as set out in our letter to John Grogan MP of 30 July 2007 (see annex), since that is our principal interest in this matter as a regulator.

  The lawyer's duty of confidentiality is critical to his or her relationship with the client, and we could not support anything which undermined that. However, we do not think that that duty of confidentiality presents an automatic bar to a solicitor being included in a transparency initiative when undertaking political lobbying. Rule 4 of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct 2007 requires a solicitor to keep the affairs of clients confidential except where disclosure is required or permitted by law or by the client. Thus, provided a solicitor has the client's consent to disclosure, we do not see that there are professional conduct difficulties.

  However, difficulties might arise if "political lobbying" were interpreted broadly so as to be capable of including normal legal transactions carried out by solicitors on behalf of clients.

  We do not consider that the reforms to be brought in under the Legal Services Act are likely to affect the position regarding solicitors' firms: broadly speaking the SRA's conduct requirements will continue to apply to all members of solicitors' firms whether or not they are lawyers.

February 2008

Annex

Letter to John Grogan MP, dated 30 July 2007

SOLICITOR LOBBYISTS

  Your letter was passed to me since it raises regulatory issues which the Solicitors Regulation Authority, rather than the Law Society, now deals with.

  I agree that transparency in political lobbying is in the public interest. The European Commission recently consulted on an initiative for transparency in lobbying European institutions.

  We do not think a lawyer's duty of confidentiality presents an automatic bar to lawyers being included in the initiative. However, a solicitor must keep the affairs of clients confidential except where disclosure is required or permitted by law or by the client. The duty of confidentiality extends to all confidential information about a client's affairs, continues after the solicitor has ceased to act for the client, and includes information about the client's identity. The obligation is set out in rule 4 of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct 2007, but it is not unique to solicitors. It is a general principle that a lawyer is the confidential agent of his or her client across the legal professions of the world.

  However, provided that membership imposes no requirement which conflicts with a solicitor's professional duties (such as, for example, a retrospective obligation to publish clients' names) there is nothing to prevent a solicitors' firm becoming a member of the APPC or a similar organisation. The member firm could meet the disclosure requirements of that Association, and therefore the requirements of transparency, by making the client's consent to the disclosure a pre-condition for acting.






 
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