Down but not out on legal privilege
The courts have ruled that accountants cannot have legal privilege like lawyers. The conclusion is ostensibly that the issue is a matter for law makers not for judges. If accountants want legal privilege they will have to persuade politicians to establish the principle through statute.
That will disappoint tax advisers for whom the case was being made. But the court’s decision really remains that the law as it stands was not open to expanding privilege to accountants. The people qualified to do that are the law makers.
So, while the decision is a blow. Few principles are completely immutable and campaigners may find sympathy among ministers.
The bigger question is surely whether they can persuade them to make any time for it. Cutting expenditure is the issue on everyone’s mind in Whitehall at the moment.
Politically ministers may not be well disposed to tax advisers either. Today’s report from the National Audit Office fingers tax advisers as the people responsible for helping taxpayers under-declare their liabilities in self assessment returns. Billions of unpaid tax may be at stake. With a claim like that floating around a minister would be brave to begin sticking up for tax advisers on legal privilege.
But it is logical and sensible decision. The law society is content with the court’s decision but then they would be. It protects their members’ privilege. They also argue it upholds established legal principles.
But it is common for principles to fall behind the development of facts on the ground. And this is one such case. Now is not the time to give up on legal privilege for accountants and tax advisers. Now is a time for opening a new front persuading the politicians. They will see it makes sense.