Law Society told to disclose letters about ‘Harry Potter solicitor’

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24 August 2015

Law Society

Law Society adjudicator: Solicitor “chose to adopt a high public profile”

The Law Society has been told by its freedom of information (FoI) adjudicator to disclose letters and reports involving the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the charity run by Alan Blacker, the solicitor also known as Lord Harley, Legal Futures understands.

Mr Blacker has been the subject of considerable media interest since Judge Wynn Morgan at Cardiff Crown Court last year described the solicitor-advocate as looking “like something out of Harry Potter” because of his elaborately decorated gown, which led to investigations into his unusually extensive CV on LinkedIn.

The Law Society is not a public body for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act but operates its own voluntary FoI scheme.

Mr Blacker, based in Heywood, Lancashire, works at the Joint Armed Forces Legal Advisory Service, a charity.

Adam Sowerbutts, the society’s FoI adjudicator, did not name the applicant, referred to as YZ, who requested the information about the SRA’s interaction with the charity, nor did he name Mr Blacker, who was referred to throughout as ‘AB’.

However, the third party referred to in the adjudication as ‘H’ has confirmed to Legal Futures that, on the basis of his correspondence with the society, AB was indeed Mr Blacker.

AB was described by Mr Sowerbutts as a “controversial figure” who has “attracted some coverage in national media in consequence of his activities”.

Mr Sowerbutts said it was a “matter of public record” that the society had released into the public domain “certain limited information” regarding closed SRA investigations involving AB. This could relate to replies to other FoI requests about Mr Blacker which can be found online.

“AB practises as an employed solicitor for a small charity of which he is a founder, trustee and director”.

In the adjudication, published on the society’s website, Mr Sowerbutts said YZ only sought information about the SRA’s dealings with the charity and/or company.

“An individual in a public-facing role such as a director or trustee of a charity, or the director of a company, must reasonably expect certain of their personal information to properly be in the public domain,” Mr Sowerbutts said.

“In the present case, AB, by virtue of his activities and profile, is evidently content for such information to be publicly and widely available.

“Where such an individual corresponds with the SRA as an officer of either the charity and/or the company in an official capacity, I do not consider that there can be any reasonable expectation that correspondence may not, in appropriate circumstances, be disclosed by the society in response to an FOI request.

“That is particularly so in the case of an individual who, as a member of the profession, has chosen to adopt a high public profile.”

Mr Sowerbutts ruled that the correspondence falling within the scope of YZ’s request should be disclosed, “subject to redaction of out-of-scope information and any elements of AB’s sensitive personal data contained in the in-scope information”.

The adjudicator also ruled that “the public interest balancing exercise favours disclosure” in the case of six closed SRA files within the scope of the request, subject to redaction on the same terms as for the correspondence.

Mr Sowerbutts said that in e-mails in December last year to ‘H’, the society said that it had received nine allegations regarding AB’s charity and “confirmed that six of those nine matters had been investigated by the SRA and were now closed”.

The adjudicator said the reports of misconduct made to the SRA which resulted in each of the closed investigation files being opened were not within the scope of the request. He agreed with the society that they were “impossible to redact”.

The Law Society is not obliged to accept decisions made by its adjudicator. A note at the top of the adjudication said the SRA was “currently considering”, whether, under its FOI code, it should be accepted.

Legal Futures contacted Mr Blacker, but he declined to comment.

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