Law Society Interventions Again

Profession:Herbert Smith
 
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The recent judgment of HHJ Behrens QC in Wright & Others v Law Society [2002] unreported, 4 September 2002, considered whether the intervention powers conferred upon the Law Society (the Society) under the Solicitors Act 1974 were compliant with Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 1 of the First Protocol establishes the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions, subject to the public interest and conditions provided for by law and international law. This issue was the subject of a judgment earlier this year in Holder v Law Society [2002] EWHC 1559, considered in our earlier e-bulletin dated 16 August 2002. However, the Judge in Wright took a different approach to this issue to that of the Judge in Holder.

Background

On 23 August 2002 the Society resolved to intervene in the practice of a firm, of whom the Applicants were current partners, on the grounds that there were breaches of the Solicitors Accounts Rules and the Society had reason to suspect dishonesty on the part of the Applicants. On 27 August 2002 the Society gave notice of this resolution to the Applicants. At the same time the Applicants' bank accounts were frozen. The Applicants applied to Court to prevent the intervention taking place.

Application of the Human Rights Act

One of the grounds relied upon by the Applicants was that the Society's decision to intervene infringed their right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 of the First Protocol. This was on the basis that a full intervention would have an immediate and irreversible adverse effect on the Applicants' practice, the Applicants would be unable to practise in the immediate future, and their careers may well be ruined.

The Applicants placed considerable reliance on Holder, where the Judge had said that he could not conclude that there was no real prospect of the solicitor establishing at trial that the effect of the exercise of the Society's statutory intervention powers in that case was so draconian that it amounted to an interference with his rights under Article 1 of the First Protocol.

In Wright, the Society accepted that the effect of the intervention was draconian but contended that it was necessary in the public interest that the intervention should continue unless and until a High Court Judge ordered it to be withdrawn.

HHJ Behrens QC was prepared to assume (without deciding) that the effect of an intervention was to deprive the...

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