Legal Professional Privilege

Confidentiality and legal professional privilege.

Another good reason why you should choose to instruct a solicitor rather than one of the growing number of non- solicitor “advisors” – your business remains confidential and details of your affairs cannot be demanded from your solicitor except in the most unusual circumstances involving criminality. Other bodies or “advisors” can be compelled to disclose documents and information which would be deemed to be privileged if held by your solicitor. Legal professional privilege exists as a protection to our clients.

Solicitors are both professionally qualified and rigorously regulated to ensure that you will receive the best confidential advice. The relationship between a solicitor or barrister and his or her client is uniquely special and protected.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that legal professional privilege (LPP) applies only to qualified lawyers – solicitors and barristers.

The eagerly awaited decision, by a majority of 5:2, maintains the existing certainty about the scope of LPP. It confirms that ‘there is no doubt that the justification for [LPP] is as valid in the modern world as it was when it was first developed by the courts’.

The Law Society had intervened in the Supreme Court case of Prudential PLC and Prudential (Gibraltar) Ltd v Special Commissioner of Income Tax and Philip Pandolfo (HM Inspector of Taxes).

The Society's chief executive said about the decision: ‘A lawyer’s duties and responsibilities to the client and to the courts are not available on a pick ‘n’ mix basis. The relationship between a solicitor or barrister and his or her client is a precious human right, tested and refined by centuries of common law.

‘Legal professional privilege supports the process of law, speeding the conviction of the guilty and securing the acquittal of the innocent.’

The case originated when Prudential Plc sought to withhold documents about a marketed tax avoidance scheme on the grounds of privilege. The Supreme Court, in agreement with the Court of Appeal, emphasised that extending LPP communications to other professionals, such as accountants, was a matter for parliament, not for the courts.

In the leading judgment Lord Neuberger said privilege should not be extended to communications in connection with advice given by professional people other than lawyers, ‘even where that advice is legal advice which that professional person is qualified to give’.