Disclosing interests

Has the Bar fallen behind the rest of society in its duty of disclosure?

For a number of years, the blogger has been involved in pro bono work with a UK charity, interfacing with many public authorities in the north of England. Between them, and the the Bar there seems to be a wide void of practice. In the public/charity sector, key to each appointment, contract and case taken –  is the disclosure of potential conflict of interests.

In a recent trawl of lawyer’s biographies, it is hard to discern what special interests members of the Bar or solicitors may have.  Here, the blogger is clearly not referring to ‘horse riding’, ‘modelling’, ‘fishing’ or event ‘tango dancing’, but to those activities or involvements that could give rise to – or might be perceived to result in a conflict of interest.

From the sample of biographies, it appears that we are good at promulgating our experience, skill sets and capacities; but reluctant to divulge any personal issues, links and in particular, financial interests. No, the Bar Standards Board has not requested publication of such ‘sensitive’ information, but perhaps we are simply ignoring a rising  moral duty to disclose.

How frequently has a barrister accepted instructions in a case that touches on a belief, prejudice, strongly held opinion or personal experience? In such cases, what if anything, has been shared with the professional or lay client? Are we right to separate ‘personal disclosure’ from possible professional conflict?

So often, when asked about personal feelings in taking on a case, I have rejoined “It is the exercise of a professional duty, not the indulgence of a personal belief”? And yet, at the root of all professional activity, we cannot and simply do not escape from our feelings and prejudices.

For most of my professional career, I have felt that this issue is not of importance, compared with the barrister’s duty to fight fearlessly for the client’s cause. The blogger senses that this is changing…the climate concerning the practice of disclosure has changed and continues to change. With the advent of internet searching is it not right that clients should track not just our passions, but also our prejudices?

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