Round two in legal privilege war

The battle between the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales (ICAEW) and the Law Society over legal privilege took a new twist last week when the ICAEW handed the Home Office an opinion from a second top Brick Court silk.

Last year the Home Office rushed out a consultation proposing that legal privilege be extended to accountants in money laundering cases. This followed the ICAEW’s submission of a private opinion from Brick Court’s David Anderson QC on extending privilege.

The Law Society, where there are understood to have been internal disagreements over how to respond, returned what one insider termed a “relatively benign” response.

The society was subsequently lobbied by DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, which instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Michael Beloff QC for a counter-opinion. The second Brick Court opinion is thought to be an attempt to counter this.

The accountants have tried and failed to gain access to the Beloff opinion.

The ICAEW’s lawyer Colin Passmore of Simmons & Simmons wrote to DLA late last year, saying: “It would be good to see Michael Beloff’s reasoning… but as I said before, I sense a real reluctance on your part… I have thought about meeting with you to discuss these issues, but it does not seem to me that there is a great deal of point.”

Passmore said his client recently made representations to the Home Office, but declined to comment further.