RegulationCorporate GovernancePannick in the courts

Pannick in the courts

Who can persuade the court to give accountants professional legal privilege? The Pru is hoping a star QC can

We are waiting for a ruling on whether tax advisers can have professional
legal privilege. Leading the charge for the profession is celebrity QC Lord
Pannick.

What’s happened?

The end of July saw a Court of Appeal hearing about whether accountants
should be able to claim professional legal privilege. The case was brought by
Prudential, which has been seeking to stop HM Revenue & Customs getting its
hands on notes from the insurance giant’s tax advisers regarding a tax scheme it
used. Lord Pannick, of Blackstone Chambers, has been representing Prudential
and, as such, has become defacto point man for accountants as he argues for a
level playing field with the legal profession. The Pru could not have chosen a
more colourful character with a bigger reputation.

Blackstone’s website carries endorsements of Pannick which read like the
filleted reviews on a film poster – “he is the must-use barrister when the
stakes are at their highest”; “intellectually commanding, incisive and
confident”; “legal genius”; “remains in a league of his own”. You could be
forgiven for thinking that Pannick’s clients always fall a little in love with
him.

Clearly the Pru like having him around and, when arguing the case for
accountants in court, he was charming and persuasive. But the judges were in a
combative mood and challenged Pannick rigorously along the way. This is
something Pannick will be used to. He has made his name through a hundred
appearances before the law lords in some very high profile cases.

It was Pannick who represented the Sunday Times during its battle over Peter
Wright’s Spycatcher book and he also appeared for Debbie Purdy arguing for
clearer guidelines from the director of public prosecutions on how to treat
assisted suicides. In the European Court he won the case that stopped the MoD
from sacking military personnel for being gay, and in the High Court he appeared
for the British Olympic Committee when Dwain Chambers challenged its decision to
drop him from the team for the Beijing Games.

What happens next?

We don’t expect a ruling on legal professional privilege until after the
summer. Close observers believe the case has to go a step further, all the way
to the Supreme Court (the body that replaced the law lords). If that is the
case, then Lord Pannick would seem to be the man to bet on. With what appears an
unrivalled record in arguing top cases, Pannick will likely be on the team sheet
for the next stage in this battle.

Many believe the argument in principle is won. As Pannick argued, there seems
little reason to confine privilege to lawyers alone when tax advice equals legal
advice. The next argument might be all about implementation, and how that is to
be resolved.

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