Memorandum from the Solicitors Regulation
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.
Letter to John Grogan MP, dated 30 July
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
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.