They say it threatens rule of law that guarantees a client's confidentiality Senior lawyers yesterday described as worrying and shocking police attempts to raid the offices of the Legal Aid Department for sensitive documents. They said such actions risked breaching a cardinal principle of the rule of law - the guarantee of confidentiality to clients. And they were baffled as to why the Department of Justice would advise the police to handle the matter 'ex parte' - or as a single party appearing before a judge - instead of trying to resolve the matter in court where both sides could present arguments. On Friday, the Legal Aid Department sought leave to apply for a judicial review to quash warrants for the police to raid its offices to look for documents relating to a rape convict's trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Detectives have been to the offices in Admiralty twice in the past two weeks armed with search warrants. On both occasions they left without conducting a search, but only after lengthy talks involving the Department of Justice. Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC, an Article 45 Concern Group lawmaker and former Bar Association chairman, said the guarantee of confidentiality to a client formed part of the foundation of the rule of law. 'The principle is necessary to encourage candid communication between lawyer and client and is an important link to maintain our rule of law,' he said. 'I cannot for the life of me see why police would want to challenge this.' A former president of the Law Society, Simon Ip Shing-hing, said the principle was established 'several centuries ago'. He said an independent legal profession was as indispensable as an independent judiciary and a guarantee of confidentiality was crucial to enable a client to get proper legal advice. 'It is a core principle, but a few things have happened to erode this principle in the last 10 or 20 years, such as the Organised Crimes Ordinance,' Mr Ip said. 'But it is quite strange for the police to seek to raid the Legal Aid offices. I think this is the first time I've ever heard of such a thing.' Mr Tong said it was 'high time' the courts gave a detailed and comprehensive guideline on where to draw the line between protecting a client's confidential information and protecting common interests. Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun, who is a solicitor, said it was dangerous if the police argued that the Legal Aid Department was not entitled to privilege because its job was only to screen the eligibility of applicants. 'If the police can just search the offices of Legal Aid ... there will be an inequality between the wealthy person who can afford a private solicitor and those who must go through Legal Aid,' he said.