In possibly the most eagerly anticipated decisions of recent times, the Supreme Court has ruled that accountants cannot claim legal advice privilege in relation to tax advice provided to their clients. Notary Public Matthew Pryke explains the significance of this recent decision of the Supreme Court.
Matthew Pryke a Notary Public in London explains “With this decision the position could not be clearer- legal advice privilege remains the exclusive preserve of the legal profession. The decision will come as a huge setback to accountants and other non-lawyers purporting to offer legal advice in their attempts to bridge the competitive gap with the legal profession.“
Often people will approach a Notary Public to obtain legal advice which they wish to remain confidential and privileged. Legal advice privilege can generally be claimed in respect of confidential communications passing between a client and his lawyer for the purpose of giving or receiving legal advice. The key question for the Supreme Court to consider was whether legal advice privilege should be extended so as to apply to legal advice given by a non-lawyer, and if so to what extent.
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by a majority of 5-2. The majority judgment, delivered by Lord Neuberger, focussed on the necessity for certainty. The concept that legal advice privilege only applies to advice provided by lawyers has existed for a very long time. The judges felt that this concept is widely recognised and understood. Any extension of the principle to cover members of other professions who also offer legal advice would have the potential to create uncertainty. Consequently the courts could be called upon at various points to rule on whether a particular group constitutes a profession for the purpose of asserting legal advice privilege.
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