Irwin Mitchell senior partner Michael Napier has resigned from the Legal Services Board (LSB) after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) re-opened an investigation into him and the firm.
Napier has been instrumental in shaping the future regulation of the profession and worked closely with the Civil Justice Council (CJC) in helping the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to decide the terms of the Legal Services Act (LSA).
Last week the Court of Appeal rejected attempts by Napier and Irwin Mitchell to stop satirical magazine Private Eye publishing details of a serious complaint against him and the firm.
The complaint concerned pro bono work done by Napier on behalf of the complainant, a barrister called Michael Ford, who Napier represented when he fought his suspension from the Hong Kong bar.
Ford alleged that Napier had a serious conflict of interest while acting on the case, which took place five years after Ford’s suspension.
The complainant went to the Law Society, which upheld his allegations, but said they were not so serious that Napier and Irwin Mitchell should be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Not satisfied with this outcome, Ford reported the case to the legal ombudsman to force it to review how the Law Society had handled his case. Because Napier had held a prominent position at the law society the case was looked at by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commissioner (SLCC).
The SLCC criticised the Law Society for failing to adequately reprimand Napier and Irwin Mitchell and asked the SRA to re-open the case.
When Private Eye attempted to publish details of the SLCC’s report, Carter Ruck instructed 5 Raymond Buildings’ James Price QC to argue that under the law of confidentiality details of the report should be kept confidential.
Mr Justice Eady rejected that argument and when Irwin Mitchell attempted to appeal his ruling it was upheld by Lord Justices Hughes, Toulson and Sullivan, who rejected arguments that the client owed a duty of confidentiality to his lawyers.
The MoJ today said that Napier would resign from the LSB while he concentrates on the SRA investigation.
In a letter to the LSB Napier wrote: “Recent press coverage about a long running complaint against me and my firm concerning disputed allegations, to be reinvestigated by the SRA, mean that I’ll no longer be able to give the time and attention required to be an effective board member of the LSB.
“This is a great disappointment to me because I’ve been pleased to have been part of the team that has set up the LSB.”
In response, LSB chairman David Edmonds said: “I fully appreciate the reasons. I more than anyone understand how much the creation of the LSB owes
to Mike’s unstinting support to me as chairman. We shall miss his vast experience.”
The news will come as a blow to the LSB, which is currently grappling with the Law Society over its plans to regulate alternative business structures (ABS).
The Law Society is planning to challenge the LSB’s attempt to have the framework for the regulation of ABS in place by 2011, claiming that would be too soon.
Napier is widely seen as a diplomat who can bridge the gaps between the LSB and the Law Society, of which he was president in 2000. He also engages with the MoJ, having sat on the CJC committee, and is pro bono envoy to the Attorney General Baroness Scotland.