An ex-Clifford Chance partner has written to the Solicitors Regulation Authority calling for the body to update its guidance on ‘SLAPP’ (strategic lawsuits against public participation), after he was threatened with legal action by lawyers for the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadeem Zahawi.
Dan Neidel, who left Clifford Chance in April after 24 years with the firm to found the non-profit Tax Policy Associates, tweeted letters sent to him by law firm Osborne Clarke on behalf of Zahawi.
The letters were sent in response to a series of posts written by Neidel about Zahawi’s tax affairs.
In response to one post about the role of Zahawi’s family in providing capital for his foundation of polling company YouGov, Neidel received a letter from Osborne Clarke which included the paragraph: “…our client considers you overstepped the mark today by accusing him of lying to the media and the public in the explaining the contribution of his father to YouGov.”
The letter – later made public on Twitter by Neidel – contained the heading ‘Confidential & Without Prejudice’, and warned the former Clifford Chance partner “you are not entitled to publish [this email] or refer to it other than for the purposes of seeking legal advice”.
Today, Neidel has written to the SRA to specifically ask for an “end the practice of solicitors sending libel letters demanding that allegations of wrongdoing are retracted, but insisting that the letters are confidential and cannot be published, or even mentioned”.
In guidance posted on its website in March this year, the SRA mentions that misconduct could arise from “sending excessively legalistic letters with the aim of intimidating particularly unrepresented or lay parties”.
In his letter published Monday, Neidel asks that SRA guidance “specifically caution against assertions of confidentiality or ‘without prejudice’ which do not have a firm legal basis”.
Speaking to Law.com International, Neidel said SLAPPs were a “huge problem”, and that “the aim is to either intimidate people or run up costs they can’t afford.”
He added that if he was still in commercial practice, the decision to go public with the letters would be more difficult, as he would be worried about the reputational impact on the firm.
A spokesperson for Osborne Clarke said: “We don’t comment on client matters.”