Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Practice
I write to you now to ask about your professional standing on your appointment as chair of a child sex abuse inquiry by the Home Secretary. I ask you only for information at this stage.
You will be well aware of our duties – yours and mine – as solicitors under the Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Practice (http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/handbook/code/content.page ). As practising lawyers both of us are bound by the Code.
I wrote to you two weeks ago (https://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/csainquiry-open-letter-to-fiona-woolf-on-bias/) about bias (in the technical sense of the word). You may not have seen the letter personally; though I am sure someone in the Home Office will be aware of it. I have not had a response. Indeed, a statement promised by the Home Office on your appointment is yet to emerge.
Professional standing as a solicitor
This letter addresses specifically your professional standing as a solicitor; since as I understand it is as a lawyer that, in part, you have been given the job by the Home Secretary. Her statement of 5 September 2015 described you as follows:
Fiona Woolf has had a long and distinguished career holding high-profile and challenging positions, including President of the Law Society and Chairman of the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS), and is only the second woman since 1189 to hold the position of Lord Mayor of London. As a lawyer, and latterly partner, at CMS Cameron McKenna for over 20 years, Fiona Woolf has worked in over 40 jurisdictions. She has advised over 25 governments and multi-lateral agencies such as the World Bank. She has also served as a member of the Competition Commission for 8 years. I am confident that Fiona Woolf has the skills and experience needed to set the strategic direction of the Inquiry, to lead the work of the Panel, and to challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour to get to the bottom of this issue, and stop it happening again.
If you or I act as a solicitor in any capacity we are, as you know, bound by the SRA Code. Mrs May plainly represented that you are a lawyer; and reference to the Law Society means you are held out to the public as a solicitor.
Solicitors: professional duties
As a solicitor you will know of our duties which include: (1) we cannot take on work which is not within our expertise; (2) we cannot accept instructions where we may not undertake the work efficiently in the time available to us (ie we must not overstretch ourselves); and (3) we may not act where there is any question of conflict.
I have dealt already with conflict (3). Of (1) I do think those affected by your work are entitled to know what is your ‘expertise’ and relevant experience to deal with this inquiry, please (and see Inquiries Act 2005 s 8(1)). I know this is not a statutory inquiry; but on the point I am sure the common law would say much the same as s 8(1) (do you agree?). For example what is your experience of children law and relevant criminal law?
Taking on new work
And of your available time ((2) above) for the job? Leveson LJ, as far as I know, sat or otherwise worked more or less continuously on his press inquiry over most of a year. He delivered a full report after cross-examination of a variety of witnesses. Waterhouse J in respect of the 2000 North Wales inquiry read 3,500 statements and 9,000 files. No doubt many more statement and files will be involved in this inquiry. Are you confident you can give enough time to the work within the context of your professional duties as a solicitor; and of your other professional and ceremonial duties?
Please respond within the terms of Chapters 1 and 3 the SRA Code. I invite you please to reply to me, a fellow practising solicitor, before the point can be raised formally with Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Sent to Lord Mayor’s 22 September 2014: enquiry reference no GE44360.