Revealed: Law Society did not seek advice on Sharia law before issuing controversial wills guidance

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8 December 2014


Law Society: breached privacy

The Law Society did not consult any experts in Sharia law before issuing the controversial practice note on Sharia-compliant wills that it was forced to withdraw last month, it has emerged.

Further, at the same time that it was refusing to accede to a request to identify those who had drafted the practice note, the society had itself published their names elsewhere on its website.

The revelations came in an adjudication by Richard Eyre, the Law Society’s freedom of information adjudicator, to a complaint by an unnamed applicant who was unhappy that the society published the note in the first place.

The society withdrew and apologised for the note a fortnight ago – some nine months after publishing it – saying “we recognise that it was not appropriate to issue guidance based on only one of many interpretations of Sharia principles”.

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In response to initial correspondence with the applicant, according to Mr Eyre, Chancery Lane said that “no ‘Sharia law experts’ had been consulted and that no external individuals or organisations had lobbied the society or been involved in drafting the note”.

To better understand how the note had come about, the applicant wanted the names of its authors, and sight of correspondence between the members of wills and equity committee which was responsible for it, both of which were denied by the Law Society. He eventually asked for an adjudication under its freedom of information code because he felt they were being unreasonably withheld.

Mr Eyre reported that among other arguments, the Law Society said that, if the names were disclosed, “the authors in this case would be put in the position of being clear potential targets for all those who did not agree with Sharia succession principles and did not think the society should be involved in advising solicitors about them.

“It would mean without doubt that they would no longer feel comfortable being involved in writing practice notes in the future, nor would they be able to speak for the society at events. Others on committees might feel the same, if a precedent were set of disclosing authors’ names when requested.”

The applicant first showed that the two authors were named as such on their own firm’s website, which the Law Society described as a “mistake” which had been rectified. But he subsequently provided a print-out from another part of the Law Society’s website which named the pair as the authors.

Mr Eyre said that although once adopted practice notes are the responsibility of the Law Society of the whole, this fact meant it “cannot now withhold the information on grounds that it would breach the individuals’ privacy to publish it, since it has already breached any privacy that might have existed”.

He made it clear that his decision was “without prejudice to the question as to whether the authorship of such practice notes in general should be disclosed”.

The information has now been removed.

However, Mr Eyre rejected the request to see the correspondence that passed between the committee members, saying it was within the exception that allowed for policy formulation to take place without the risk of publication.

He added: “Nothing in any of the documents I have seen gives rise to any suspicion of impropriety or inappropriateness in the decision-making process in this case.”

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