It has always been fundamental to the practice of law that a client’s interest should come before anything.
Solicitors are subject to the SRA’s Code of conduct which requires us to act in the best interests of each client and to ensure that our independence is not compromised. The effect of this is that we should fearlessly represent their interests without interference from outsiders. In particular lawyers must be free from political interference.
This foundation stone has been significantly eroded in recent years. So we have seen government working with the insurance industry to frustrate the rights of victims of negligence – even proposing the removal of an actionable injury –
Access to Justice for ordinary citizens has been eroded to an alarming level –
Most lawyers cannot recall at time when there was greater government interference in the practice of law.
But reports of action against Leigh Day and Co take these concerns to a new level.
Following the enquiry into alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees the government made it clear that they were unhappy with the lawyers who had represented the alleged victims. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon clearly wanted action taken. Now we hear that Leigh Day have been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) by the SRA who are also investigating Public Interest Lawyers.
This certainly gives the appearance of politicians influencing the actions of the SRA. If so, this goes to the heart of the independence of our profession. Have we really reached the stage where lawyers will live in fear of challenging those in power? In the UK? In 2016? What do lawyers do? If they give way to these fears then they might breach the Code of Practice. If they fight fearlessly for their clients they might find themselves on the wrong side of disciplinary action.
I certainly hope that the SDT take on board these concerns and reject the referral.