Media lawyer attacks Aclec proposals

Proposals for a stricter rule on lawyers talking to the press will place excessive restrictions on solicitors, preventing them responding to police leaks, according to leading media lawyer Mark Stephens.

The Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) has advised the Law Society to make explicit rules requiring solicitors, as soon as they are retained in a criminal case, not to do or say anything which might prejudice the outcome of a case.

The current rule is based on the Contempt of Court Act which says solicitors can speak to the media unless there is a “substantial” risk of “serious” prejudice.

But Stephens said: “You're making solicitors hide-bound. They won't be able to properly defend their clients when information is put into the public domain by the prosecuting side and the accuracy of that information needs to be challenged.”

He said that if the police were made to stop leaking information and if contempt laws were overhauled and properly enforced, the whole problem of trial by media would be dissipated. Aclec recommended rule changes by both the Law Society and the Bar Council, in anticipation of more lawyers talking publicly about their cases.

The Law Society said it would consider Aclec's advice.