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Chinese walls

Duncan Curley
reviews the case law on conflicts of interest and the proposed changes to the professional
conduct rules

14 June 2002

When a firm of solicitors undertakes contentious work against a former client, a conflict of interest may arise if the firm possesses confidential information concerning the client’s affairs. The solicitors’ professional conduct rules identify the requirement always to preserve client confidences, as part of the solicitor’s fiduciary duty to the client. On receiving instructions from a new client, a solicitor is bound by a different rule to disclose all information in his or her possession which is pertinent to the new retainer. If the solicitor has confidential information from a previous retainer which is relevant to a new instruction, the solicitor is caught between two conflicting duties – a ‘subject-matter’ conflict – and is placed in an impossible position. Bolkiah The House of Lords’ judgment in Prince Jefri Bolkiah v KPMG [1999] 2 AC 222 is the leading case on subject-matter conflicts. The principles in Bolkiah are of general applicability ...

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