Associated News sues Law Soc over cover-up

Associated Newspapers is suing the Law Society over its refusal to disclose details of a secret hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

A reporter in the Manchester office of the Daily Mail had requested information about the hearing, but was denied.

Nick Braithwaite, group legal adviser at Associated Newspapers, said: “They concluded they haven’t got an obligation to disclose. We wrote letters challenging this and they dug their heels in.”

Under the Solicitors Act 1974, the SDT must file hearing reports with the Law Society, which in turn has a duty to make those details public.

In this case the SDT did file with the Law Society, but with the strict orders that the file remain secret in order to protect third parties associated with the case.

Keith Mathieson, the partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain advising Associated Newspapers, said: “The Law Society is in a difficult position. Either it defies the SDT or it defies us.”

The Law Society claims that the Human Rights Act 1998 means that it does not need to disclose when protecting the rights of third parties.

Braithwaite said: “They’re raising human rights arguments. To some extent this has turned into a ‘free speech versus privacy’ issue.”

One of the solicitor members of the tribunal said: “We have to balance the public and private interest. The private
interest will not be that of the solicitor but of one or more third parties. It’s rare for cases to be heard in private.”

The case will be heard at a judicial review and is yet to be assigned a judge.

Katrina Wingfield at Penningtons Solicitors is advising the Law Society, instructing Andrew Hopper QC at Cartwright Black Solicitors.

Mathieson has instructed Richard Gordon QC at Brick Court Chambers.