The Law Society and Bar Council have strongly opposed proposals to impose a duty on barristers to disclose clients' previous convictions.
Chancery Lane described as 'misguided' a Bar Standards Board suggestion that a barrister should advise a client that they must cease to act if the client refuses consent to inform the prosecution about previous convictions. Responding to a BSB consultation on its new handbook, the Society said the change would undermine lawyer/client trust and the duty of privilege and confidentiality.
It said the proposal would place the BSB code at odds with that of solicitors in a key area where the rules applying to all advocates need to be consistent. Neither advocates nor clients have a duty to disclose previous convictions, the Society stated. However, it noted that in practice a defence advocate's failure to cite their client's good character in mitigation should alert the prosecution of the need to check the antecedence.
The Bar Council said the change 'may appear superficially attractive', but on closer examination is 'demonstrably inappropriate' in an adversarial process. It said: 'It should be no part of the duty of defence counsel to introduce material that is damaging to his client's interests.'
To require such action, it said, would undermine the client's confidence in counsel's independence and discourage frank and open discussion.
The Bar Council argued: 'It is the duty of the prosecution properly to research and accurately to present to the court the previous convictions of the accused.'
It added that the public interest is best met by the prosecution discharging its obligation properly.