Girling backs Official Solicitor's powers

Law Society president Tony Girling has cautioned against curtailing the discretionary powers of the Official Solicitor, saying it could lead to unfair disadvantages to beneficiaries of estates administered by him.

Speaking about the review on the duties of the Official Solicitor, announced by the Lord Chancellor last week, Girling also warned of the difficulties of legislating to prevent money being made out of commenting on criminal events.

“I think it would be extremely difficult to contemplate legislation which would prevent anyone profiting from commenting on unpleasant events,” he said.

But he acknowledged that a review, in which the society expects to be consulted, could be useful to dispel some of the “clear ignorance” which has emerged over the Official Solicitor’s role.

The Lord Chancellor announced the review following Official Solicitor Peter Harris’s controversial decision to sell rights to archive material from Frederick West’s estate to a film company.

Harris was appointed by the courts to look after the interests of the Wests’ five youngest children in January last year. As administrator of the estate, he has a duty to responsibly maximise the financial return to the estate. But his decision to give rights to the Portman Entertainment Group for use of material from the estate outraged politicians and religious leaders.

“One thing that has come across is that people make the assumption that the Official Solicitor is effectively a government official, accountable to the Attorney General, which he is not,” said Girling. “The review could be helpful in educating the public and others.”