Serious Fraud Office restrictions prompt new guidance for lawyers advising clients
A move by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to limit the role of legal advisers to witnesses in fraud investigations has prompted the Law Society of England and Wales to publish guidance for solicitors.
Section 2 Criminal Justice Act 1987 interviews take place during the course of a SFO probe. Any person with relevant information can be compelled “to answer questions or furnish information in relation to a fraud investigation.”
All solicitors must act in their client’s best interest. The Law Society practice note Representing clients at section 2 CJA interviews reminds lawyers they do not have to accept unnecessary and inappropriate restrictions on their ability to represent clients.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: “Being compelled to answer questions under peril of criminal sanction can be a difficult and stressful experience for witnesses. Witnesses in section 2 interviews are entitled to receive proper legal advice. This allows witnesses to understand their position and determine how best to respond.”
The SFO guidance seeks to limit the actions that can be taken by a solicitor when acting for someone interviewed under section 2. It also suggests a series of undertakings that will be sought by the SFO from the lawyer in advance of attending an interview.
The Law Society has prepared a practice note for solicitors who represent witnesses in such situations.
Robert Bourns added: “The purpose of the Law Society’s practice note is to draw our members’ attention to the potential issues raised by the SFO guidance.
“Our practice note addresses concerns about the professional conduct implications of the SFO’s guidance, and stresses the care that needs to be taken when giving undertakings.”
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