Law firms clash with HSE over ‘intimidating’ solicitors

A group of law firms has found itself at loggerheads with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) over solicitors’ involvement in health and safety investigations.

The HSE claims employers’ solicitors should not be present when inspectors are interviewing employees after work-related incidents. The law firms, led by DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary regulatory partner Roy Tozer and Burges Salmon‘s Chris Jackson, contend otherwise.

The debate has led to uncertainty over the profession’s obligations while proposed Law Society guidance on the issue is redrafted.

Jackson said: “This is an issue about fair representation and the interests of justice. It’s about a criminal investigator wanting to stack the odds in its favour.”

Disagreement arose last year after the HSE wrote to the Law Society suggesting that the presence of solicitors who accompanied employees at interviews investigating workplace incidents intimidates the employees.

The firms, the HSE and the Centre for Corporate Acc-ountability all made representations to the Law Society on its draft guidance, stating that it would be ethically incorrect for employer’s solicitors to sit in on interviews. The Law Society’s rules and ethics committee delayed the adoption of the guidance in October and again on 2 December and is now preparing to issue amended guidance in the New Year.

Lobbying firms also included Beachcroft Wansbroughs, Eversheds, Hammonds, Pinsent Masons and Shoosmiths.

The HSE declined to comment.