The Solicitors Regulation Authority appointed Fieldfisher to a major new panel weeks after dropping an investigation into its senior partner.
RollOnFriday broke the news in July 2017 that Fieldfisher's senior partner, Matthew Lohn, had departed as the chair of the British Horseracing Authority's disciplinary panel. The panel ruled on prosecutions brought by the BHA against jockeys and trainers, but the revelation that Fieldfisher provided BHA with £50,000 of undisclosed paid legal advice since 2013 led to accusations of a conflict of interest.
The outcry prompted the quashing of a verdict by Lohn and a fast-tracked review conducted by Christopher Quinlan QC, in which the disciplinary panel's appointment processes were criticised as "opaque". Quinlan was not critical of Lohn, with whom, coincidentally, he sits on the UK's National Anti-Doping Panel*.
The scandal compelled the SRA to investigate Lohn, but in July 2017 it closed down its investigation. A spokesman told RollOnFriday that the regulator had "looked at all issues involved" and "decided no disciplinary action was necessary".
However, it transpires that around the same time, Fieldfisher was bidding for a role on the SRA's inaugural general counsel panel. The firm was successful, winning a contract in July 2017 together with Capsticks and Capital Law to advise the SRA on matters including regulatory and governance issues for a 3-5 year term. The Fieldfisher bid team was led by two partners. One was Lohn. At the time he said he was "pleased to be building on our existing work for the SRA and to have the opportunity to further develop this relationship".
RollOnFriday asked the SRA whether it dropped its investigation into Lohn while he was leading Fieldfisher's bid. A spokesman said that its decision not to pursue the complaint against Lohn was made in February 2017, and that it was “just not publicised until the summer”.
However it is not clear when Fieldfisher began its bid, and whether it was bidding for the contract while Lohn was under investigation by the SRA. Asked when the tendering process began, a spokesman said, “We routinely carry out procurement exercises and take the necessary steps to ensure there is no conflict of interest. In this case we appointed several firms to our GC panel and no solicitors under investigation were involved in the process”. Press reports suggest the SRA was inviting tenders from early 2016. Asked to be specific about when Fieldfisher tendered for the job, an SRA spokesman said, "We can’t disclose commercially-confidential details about any particular tender so we can’t add anything to our statement".
Fieldfisher declined to comment.
*The racing world does seem cosy. In 2013, as chairman of the BHA disiplinary panel, Lohn ruled that trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni acted alone in doping 11 horses belonging to Godolphin, the horseracing stable founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. After the case concluded, Lohn was appointed as a member of the Dubai Healthcare City Regulator Appeals Board, which was also founded by Al Maktoum.