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May 26, 2011

Law Society to intervene in Prudential legal privilege case

The UK Law Society has been granted permission to intervene in Prudential’s appeal to the Supreme Court to extend legal professional privilege (LPP) to tax practitioners.

In April the UK Supreme Court granted Prudential permission to appeal against a previous ruling that LPP can only apply to lawyers.

The Law Society said it is intervening in this appeal because Prudential is “again seeking to extend legal professional privilege beyond the legal profession.”

The group also said it is pleased to have another opportunity, “to put forward arguments on behalf of the solicitors’ profession in the appeal”.

Law Society chief executive Linda Lee said that if LPP is opened up to any professional person who asserts that they give advice on the law – such as tax advice – they can then seek to withhold vital information from bodies such as HM Revenue & Customs.  

“Extending LPP in such a way risks creating uncertainty over what can and cannot fall under LPP. The boundaries of LPP must remain clear,” she added.

In 2009, the issue was brought to the fore in a case between HMRC and Prudential, regarding the disclosure of tax advice provided by Prudential’s accountants PwC.

Prudential has been trying to extend LPP privileges that would allow tax practitioners similar court privileges to lawyers to protect client confidentiality.

In October 2010, the UK Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that LPP does not apply to any professionals except for qualified lawyers – solicitors and barristers. It also stressed the need for a clear and certain application of LPP, pointing out that when applied to members of the legal profession acting in a professional capacity, clarity and certainty is currently sufficient.

 

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