In September of last year the SFO invited the FLA and the Law Society to participate in an informal consultation process concerning the revision of the SFOs operational guidance relating to the presence of legal advisers in compelled interviews.
The revised section of the SFO operational guidance was published on 6 June and details were sent around to our members. It is available on the SFO website.
Many of the concerns raised by the FLA and the Law Society last year still remain. The FLA expressed our concerns at the time that there appears to be a negative view developing within the SFO about the role that a legal advisor plays which was portrayed as an obstructive presence. We are particularly concerned that the restrictions that the SFO are trying to impose on legal advisers will conflict with their professional conduct obligations, not least as regards the undertakings required and request for information that appears to require a solicitor to reveal information that is subject to legal professional privilege.
The FLA strongly believes that the presence of a legal adviser is beneficial to all parties, although their function and professional duty is primarily to act in the best interests of their client.
We will work with the Law Society and other interested bodies to continue to raise our concerns with the SFO and make representations on our members’ behalf.
Please let us know your views on the proposals. We would welcome reports of any incidents where the SFO have tried to impose restrictions on lawyers who are legitimately representing their clients so that we can capture the impact of the new regime.
Louise Hodges, Chair, Fraud Lawyers Association