Permission to intervene in an appeal concerning the rights of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to have access to client-lawyer communications was today being sought by the Law Society of England and Wales.
The case arose following a decision by Eurasian Natural Resource Corporation (ENRC) to self-report to the SFO potential corruption discovered during an internal investigation.
The SFO subsequently requested disclosure of communications between the lawyers conducting the investigation and employees of ENRC and applied to the court for a ruling when ENRC claimed that these documents were privileged.
Mrs Justice Andrews’ ruling in favour of the SFO appeared to narrow the scope of privilege as it applies to internal investigations when criminal proceedings are in prospect.
Law Society president Joe Egan said: “This case has profound implications for when and how companies and their employees are protected by privilege.”
“Without the protection of legal professional privilege, firms may find it difficult to conduct effective internal investigations.”
“If the ruling is upheld, it potentially has the perverse effect of discouraging firms from self-reporting for fear of the consequences.
“The right for anyone to communicate confidentially with their lawyer is a fundamental part of our legal system and we want to ensure that this right is protected for all of us, not just big corporations.
“Legal professional privilege cannot be used to cover up a crime and we support robust measures to address alleged fraud or corruption. However, it is important that rights aren’t lost in the process of seeking out suspected wrongdoing.”