Email to Solicitors Regulation Authority: Mrs Fiona Woolf
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Fiona Woolf, solicitor, CMS solicitors: Home Office child sex abuse inquiry
I am a practising solicitor advocate. I am a specialist family lawyer, law writer and trainer and a one-time member of the Law Society’s children panel. I anticipate that I may be instructed by one or more of those involved as survivors in the above Home Office child sex abuse inquiry.
I attach a letter which I sent to the above Mrs Woolf of CMS solicitors and at present also Lord Mayor of London. I am told that she has accepted the role of chair of an inquiry into child sex abuse set up by the Home Secretary; though I understand that over three weeks later she has not started work on the project. An earlier ‘open letter’ on the subject of ‘bias’ is also attached,
I am told the Bishop of Durham independently shares some of my concerns, especially as to Mrs Woolf’s availability for this job.
The letter was sent to Mrs Woolf’s Lord Mayor’s office on 22 September 2014 and acknowledged under enquiry reference no GE44360. At the same time it was sent to Mrs Woolf and to her secretary at CMS solicitors. The version to Mrs Woolf was acknowledged by her office.
I have had no substantive response from Mrs Woolf, still less have I had the information I requested. I therefore write to Solicitors Regulation Authority. I have sent a copy of this letter to Mrs Woolf both at CMS and at the Lord Mayor’s office.
As you can see I reminded Mrs Woolf of her and my duties as solicitors under the Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Practice. As practising lawyers she and I are both bound by the Code.
Professional standing as a solicitor
My letter addressed Mrs Woolf’s professional standing as a solicitor. As I understand it is as a lawyer that she has been given the job by the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary’s statement of 5 September 2015 described Mrs Woolf as follows:
… 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….
If she or I act as a solicitor in any capacity we are, as you know, bound by the SRA Code. Mrs May plainly represented that Mrs Woolf is a lawyer; and reference to the Law Society means she is held out to the public as a solicitor.
Solicitors: professional duties
As a solicitor I assume Mrs Woolf is aware of her and my professional duties which include:
- We cannot take on work which is not within our expertise;
- 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
- We may not act where there is any question of conflict.
I have dealt already with conflict in my separate letter concerning Mrs Woolf ((3) above). The information as to her potential for bias is still awaited from her or from the Home Office. I hope you will consider critically whether her silence on the issue of conflict – so critical to practice – is acceptable (and especially where it impacts on her quasi-judicial role within the inquiry).
Of (1): I hope you would agree that those affected by her work are entitled to know what is Mrs Woolf’s ‘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). For example what is her experience of children law and relevant criminal law? As a person who is to deal with people who have had some particularly damaging experiences Mrs Woolf seems remarkably insensitive on this point: she has said nothing to anybody, still less anything to reinsure the constituency with whom she is set up to deal.
Taking on new work
Of Mrs Woolf’s 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. Can Mrs Woolf be confident that she give enough time to the work within the context of her professional duties as a solicitor; and of your other professional and ceremonial duties? As far as anybody knows she has not started work yet though she was appointed well over three weeks ago.
Mrs Woolf’s response
Mrs Woolf has not responded to my letter. I know it has been received by both her offices.
Within the terms of Chapters 1 and 3 the SRA Code I ask Solicitors Regulation Authority to investigate the ability, and potential for conflict of Mrs Woolf in this inquiry.