ACS:Law, porn and Scientology: No comment

Fellow solicitor David Allen Green, aka Jack of Kent took up the cause of Councillor John Dixon, and has been covering story on his blog. Jack of Kent explains the background much better than I could. In brief, John Dixon sent a tweet saying...

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Fellow solicitor David Allen Green, aka Jack of Kent took up the cause of Councillor John Dixon, and has been covering story on his blog. Jack of Kent explains the background much better than I could. In brief, John Dixon sent a tweet saying "didn't know there was a Scientology 'church' on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.”

A Scientologist read the tweet and complained to Cardiff Council. The complaint was passed to the relevant Ombudsman. It has, after a lot of jobsworthian nonsense, just been dismissed, thank goodness. John Dixon’s own take on the story is here and is well worth a read.

One aspect of the case which interested me was that one of the issues the Ombudsman raised was this obligation on Councillors:

"You must not behave in a way which would reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute at any time... you should be aware that your actions in both your public and private life might have an adverse impact on your office or your authority...your actions and behaviour are subject to greater scrutiny than those of ordinary members of the public".

It immediately occurred to me that the Ombudsman’s high handed and bureaucratic actions would immediately have brought him in breach of an obligation like this, had it applied to him. (I don’t know whether there is a similar obligation on Ombudspeople or not).

Recently, ACS:law has been in the news.

As a solicitor, I am bound by a code of conduct, part of which also prevents me from bringing the profession into disrepute: s.1.06...

“You must not behave in a way that is likely to diminish the trust the public places in you or the legal profession.”

(Stop that hollow laughing, please).

TMT Lawyer on Twitter made the following comment (slightly tweaked to correct typos), as part of a discussion about the ACS:Law case:

“If solicitors on Twitter seem a bit mealy mouthed about other solicitors' or law firms' conduct, it’s because of our Code of Conduct”

Can this, like the Ombudsman’s response to John Dixon’s tweet, act to stifle free speech?

Does it mean, in effect, that, on pain of disciplinary proceedings, solicitors are required to close ranks and not talk about questionable activities by other law firms in public, because that discussion would tend to diminish trust in the profession?

Or would (as I see it) the fairer view be that such an interpretation would in itself diminish trust even more? (And an open discussion about other firms’ failings - subject of course to the discussion being based on facts rather than gossip or rumour - serving to increase trust in the profession).

Of course, the simplest thing to do is not to say anything. It would be impossible to prove that silence is a consequence of deciding to close ranks, as opposed to just not having anything interesting to say.

So I don’t propose to say anything about ACS:Law. My reasoning: there’s plenty of good commentary elsewhere. You’ll have to trust me on that.