Allowing the lawyers to speak

What the News International authorisation may and may not mean.

It would appear that News International has authorised the law firm Harbottle & Lewis to answer questions in respect of its now famous advice of 2007 in respect of whether a cache of emails revealed any wrongdoing. The precise wording of the relevant part of statement reads:

"News Corporation's management and standards committee can confirm that News International has today authorised the law firm Harbottle & Lewis to answer questions from the Metropolitan Police Service and parliamentary select committees in respect of what they were asked to do."

However, this is not as clear as it perhaps looks. It carefully avoids the word "waiver" and uses "authorisation" instead. This may mean that no legal professional privilege is being waived at all. If it is only an authorisation, then the statement is saying no more than the obvious: any client can authorise (or instruct) a lawyer to answer questions on the client's behalf.

The authorisation (or waiver) also does not seem to be a complete one, which would allow Harbottle & Lewis to discuss the affairs of News International freely. Instead, it is an authorisation on terms limited to answering the questions of the police and the select committees of the House of Commons. The authorisation does not mention dealing with press enquiries.

Furthermore, the authorisation does not expressly permit Harbottle & Lewis to fully co-operate with the police or parliamentarians, but only to answer questions. Accordingly, any information so obtained will only be as good as the questions asked. The statement also omits to mention whether Harbottle & Lewis will be entitled to provide documents in addition to answers.

The questions and answers are likely to be in written form in any case, as the partner responsible for the letter of advice is no longer with the firm. There is probably no one still at the firm who can give relevant oral evidence. And one can envisage how "lawyerly" the written answers may well be. There is also no mention of whether Harbottle & Lewis will be able to answer questions free from any prior consultation or discussion with News International.

It may well be that Harbottle & Lewis make the most of this opportunity to provide information to the police and the select committees; after all, this highly-regarded firm has suffered severe criticism for the content of that letter of advice. Any answers (and documents) that they do provide will be covered by parliamentary privilege. News International will not be able to bring any civil action to stop them and, depending on the precise terms of the authorisation, there would be no regulatory or disciplinary sanction News International can threaten either.

The statement issued yesterday by News International does not necessarily mean that the full circumstances of the 2007 advice will now come to light. But there is a rich and intriguing possibility that something interesting may well result from this. As lawyers tend to say when pressed: it all depends.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is the author of the Jack of Kent blog and can be followed on Twitter and on Facebook.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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