In January, the International Bar Association (IBA) released a statement defending the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality. The statement follows the recent attacks on the principle by UN High Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (UN FACTI Panel) and the OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum.
The OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum claim that ‘white collar crimes like tax evasion, bribery, and corruption are often concealed through complex legal structures and financial transactions.’ These crimes, they insist, are ‘facilitated by lawyers, accountants, financial institutions and other “professional enablers” of such crimes.’
The UN FACTI Panel stresses that lawyers and law firms often abuse their legal professional privilege […] to assist criminals in money-laundering and other criminal conduct’. The Panel also criticised the self-regulation of the profession as insufficient and unreliable and called for more oversight of the profession.
The statement stresses the importance of lawyer-client confidentiality in relation to the administration of justice, the independence of the legal profession, and the rule of law.
In the statement’s foreword, Lord Neuberger recalls that ‘In a free and democratic society, it is essential that everyone has access to independent and confidential legal advice, whether in connection with a private dispute, a dispute with government, a family dispute or a criminal dispute. A vital component of the right to legal advice (and legal representation) is that communications between lawyers and their clients remain confidential.’
The statement also discusses the risks of disproportionate international reaction to perceived abuse of lawyer-client confidentiality in facilitating financial crime.