Lawyers back secrecy ruling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 February, 1996, 12:00am

BARRISTERS accused by clients of bungling cases should be allowed to have their names kept secret, lawyers said yesterday.

Legal experts defended the controversial decision not to disclose the identity of a counsel criticised for incompetence during an appeal.

They said it was unfair to identify lawyers who came under fire from disgruntled defendants when they had no opportunity for redress. Former Bar Association vice-chairman Barry Sceats said counsel were an easy target for groundless allegations by disappointed clients.

'Defendants often take a different view of their legal representatives after they are convicted. They will often look to someone to blame,' he said.

'If they don't have a good ground of appeal they can always blame the lawyer.

'But he will have no right of audience and no comeback. It could be terribly damaging to his professional reputation.' John Mullick, chairman of the association's criminal law committee, said: 'I think it would be unfortunate for counsel to be pilloried in public for what is no more than a genuine, sincere effort to represent his clients to the best of his ability.' Only if a court deemed a barrister guilty of incompetence should his identity be revealed, he said.

Mr Mullick's comments came after the Court of Appeal freed two people convicted of fraud offences from four-year jail terms on the grounds their counsel failed to properly advise them to give evidence at their trial.

The Chief Justice, Sir Ti Liang Yang, said it was 'not necessary' to disclose the lawyer's name.

Gilbert Rodway, the appellant's QC, accused the lawyer of making a string of errors, but said his identity was irrelevant.

Lawyers also defended rules protecting the identity of parties hauled before disciplinary tribunals.

Mr Sceats said a person should not be named until the case and any appeal was over as allegations which were never proved could still destroy a reputation.

But he added: 'There is nothing special about lawyers that should give them immunity from being named if everyone else is being named.

'They are not entitled to any greater degree of protection than other professions.' Tony Harrod, chairman of the Law Society's standing committee on compliance, said disciplinary hearings should be held behind closed doors because complaints usually related to confidential discussions with clients.

However, barrister Johannes Chan Man-mun, a senior law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, called for tribunals to be opened to the public.

But he said a person accused of professional misconduct should only be identified once a prima facie case had been established, in case the complaint was frivolous.