“Harry Potter” lawyer was seeking to restrain release of six closed files under a freedom of information request
The controversial solicitor-advocate Alan Blacker, otherwise known as “Lord Harley of Counsel”, has had a claim for ‘interim relief’ preventing files containing information about him being made public, struck out.
In a judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Fraser — sitting in the High Court’s Queen’s Bench Division in Manchester — booted out Blacker’s claim against the Law Society, ruling that there was “no serious issue to be tried”.
Blacker was attempting to restrain the release of the six closed files containing information in relation to him and his charity organisation the Joint Armed Forces Legal Advocacy Service (JAFLAS). The files are currently held by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
In late 2014 information regarding JAFLAS was the subject of a freedom of information (FOI) request by a member of the public only known as YZ. The Law Society — which is not a public body for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act — referred the issue to an independent adjudicator, who upheld the requests, but only to a limited extent.
Sensitive personal data and correspondence not directly relating to Blacker in his capacity as a charity and/or company director was to be redacted. However according to the judgment Blacker argued:
The information remaining still identifies him and that he would and does find that embarrassing, and if disclosure occurs it will unleash a torrent of adverse, embarrassing and misconceived comment, and cause mischief.
The judge conceded that Blacker may be correct on this point, but that did not give the solicitor-advocate a cause of action. Blacker also attempted to invoke article 6 and article 8 of the Human Rights Act. This did not go down well with Fraser. He said:
Article 6, the right to a fair trial, is not even remotely engaged, as there are no civil or criminal proceedings relating to the closed files. The failure by the Law Society to deal with the closed files as Dr Blacker seeks, and/or the failure by the Law Society to deliver them up to him, does not constitute an interference with his private or family life under article 8.
As well as the injunction, Blacker also demanded that he be sent all the files held against him by the SRA. Once again Fraser didn’t agree, continuing:
The closed files are the property of the SRA and were created by the SRA as part of its function as the regulator of the profession. Dr Blacker has no proprietary right in them. I fail to see how in those circumstances he can have any right to delivery up of the closed files.
Blacker’s allegations that the Law Society had acted in “bad faith” were described as “patently bad and not supported in the evidence”. Furthermore, Blacker suggested that the Law Society was in fact in breach of an existing injunction. However Fraser was quick to point out no such injunction existed.
As a result, Blacker’s attempt to seek interim relief failed.
Additional amusing titbits from the judgment include a lengthy analysis of Blacker’s name and titles. Fraser points out that Blacker — who sometimes refers to himself as “The Rt. Hon Lord Harley of Counsel” — does not appear on the current list of members of the Privy Council either under Blacker or Harley. Fraser refers to him as “Dr Blacker” throughout his judgment.
It was also a big day for Legal Cheek who is mentioned twice in the High Court judgment. Back in 2014, Legal Cheek discovered that redacted files published by the Law Society and relating to Blacker could actually be viewed by simply highlighting the text. The judgment said:
He (Blacker) came across this through a legal news website called Legal Cheek. Those who operate this online publication had discovered both the publication of the schedule, and that the redaction had been done incompetently. If anyone were to download the schedule and change the background colour, the “redacted” text could be read in the usual way. Legal Cheek informed the online community that this could be done, and this caused a degree of internet curiosity and comment.
As news broke of the result a spokesperson for the SRA told Legal Cheek:
We welcome the judgment, which agrees to strike out the claim as we requested. Mr Justice Fraser also recognised that the files requested by Dr Blacker belong to us and he has no claim to them. We are sorry that information was published without being properly redacted. We have already reviewed our processes for responding to freedom of Information requests and we are keeping them under review. We will look at the detail of the judgement and see if any further changes need to be made.
Blacker — who hit headlines back in August 2014 after an in-court dusting down by judge David Wynn Morgan for “looking like something out of Harry Potter” — currently faces a number of disciplinary charges brought by the SRA. Having failed to attend two case management hearings so far, Blacker is next due before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on 12 July.