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Legal Profession

Today's news that a prosecution has collapsed and a jury discharged without even considering the evidence because of the lack of credibility of a witness put up as an expert might not be big news - if it wasn't for the fact that the witness is Andrew Ager, a sticky character, a self-described Subject Matter Expert, that the Crown Prosecution Service used as their go-to-guy for anything to do with carbon credits and, sometimes, frauds in other areas, too. Even more startling is the witness' attempts to pervert the course of justice. The CPS is, once more, the subject of much head-shaking for being rubbish. But culpable as they are, the CPS is not the only one against which accusations of ineptitude should be levelled.

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The front page of the website of a solicitor's practice in Bolton in the north of England says "WARNING – SCAM ALERT – We have been advised that Allansons has been cited as the instructed solicitors by Agents purporting to be from ECM Asset Management Limited and in connection with investment equity release. No such company exists and we have been informed this is part of an ongoing investment scam. Allansons has not been instructed by any such company nor been involved in any such scheme." Sadly, the profession's regulator has found, there was malfeasance within the firm. And there is apparently unrelated skulduggery afoot.

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It's a fine point and one which raises hackles on both sides: should a state (which means the taxpayer) fund legal action against the state (which means the taxpayer as represented by elected members) where the action complained of is itself an action against the state (which means society at large)? It's an area where law, emotion and common sense collide and the result is not a pretty sight.

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Australian financial services giant AMP and its solicitors Clayton Utz have "surrendered" in their objections to producing notes of meetings which they claimed were subject to legal professional privilege. ASIC's position is simple: it has wide ranging powers to compel the release of documents and it will accept only a narrow and strict definition of legal professional privilege.

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The irony should escape no-one. In order to work towards the development of on-line courts, the UK will play host to delegates and speakers from "over 20 countries." So, video conferencing is expected to work for court proceedings but not for meetings, then?

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Legal professional privilege used to be simple: if a document or thing came to the attention of a lawyer in the course of, or in during preparation for, litigation it was privileged. That was it. Simple, clear and everyone knew where they stood. Then some twit decided to invent "legal advice privilege" which tends to the view that anything said between a lawyer and his client is privileged. Then no one knew where they stood because, in England and Wales and therefore in other jurisdictions following that, behind all of this lay two fundamental principles: a solicitor is an officer of the Court and must not mislead the Court and legal professional privilege breaks when a client attempts to involve the solicitor in the commission of a crime. Advocates of legal advice privilege were not supportive of that.

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Recent collapses in criminal cases in the UK and Australia have been the result of prosecutors failing to deliver all evidence within their control or knowledge to defence teams. But there is another side to the story - the not mythical death by paper where so much evidence is delivered that the defence cannot handle it or identify the nugget in that mountain that would aid their case.

Book: Sun Tzu and the Art of Litigation

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A report in yesterday's Law Society's Gazette quotes a passage from a speech given by David Green, the outgoing head of the Serious Fraud Office under whose watch the SFO's performance has seen a significant improvement. But there is one area where this publication forcefully disagrees with him: the development of US-style Deferred Prosecution Agreements. In his speech, he speaks strongly in favour of them, it is reported.

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An Israeli software company, LawGeex, has released a report which it says establishes the principle that its software can analyse contracts faster and more accurately (and therefore much cheaper) than lawyers specialising in the specific field under review. Using the trendy tags "artificial intelligence" and "deep learning," the methodology of the test and its results show good reason for lawyers to think the future might be about to become ultra-tough. Or provide new opportunities to improve revenue per junior fee earner.

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It would be easy to think of dozens of bad-taste humorous comments to make about the conduct of Iain Farrimond but to do so would be terribly cruel. The circumstances in which he has found himself are awful but so serious that there can be no alternative to serious punishment.

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While Clyde and Co's accounts were being examined in relation to allegations of failings under the money laundering regulations (see here), it was found a significant number of accounts where balances were held on the client's account but no action had taken place for a long time. The firm set out to remedy it. The partner responsible did it improperly.

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A report in The Law Society's Gazette about a male Judge's comments to a women's group meeting has raised the hackles of working men in the solicitor's branch in England and Wales. So who is to blame? The judge for making the comments that can be rightly regarded as sexist or the Law Society which after decades of being "right on" or whatever the current phrase may have finally gone too far in its apparent approval of the Judge's comments? Or perhaps both.,

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The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal (which, trendily, omits the apostrophe when it writes its own name) has levied its largest fine ever. Like the previous largest, it's against the London office of a US law firm.

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Simon Spence wants to be the next Vice Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association of England and Wales. Not only does he stand on a platform of disparaging solicitors, he does it in such a way that he felt the need to clarify his comments. Surely an accomplished advocate should be expected to be clear the first time, to say what he means and to mean what he says? Then the next question is how can someone who fails those basic tests, with a failure he himself demonstrates by his attempts at correction, can be trusted in a position of high-office within a major professional body?

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There are two questions to ask about the Solicitors' Regulatory Authority's action in relation to solicitors company Asons: the first is whether it was a "South Korea" moment - where there were so many questions, that they had no choice and secondly, if those questions had merit, how has it taken so long? The bottom line is that suspicious activity and behaviour was utterly rife: why do regulators adopt a lower standard in this area than they expect those they supervise to adopt in relation to money laundering?

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