The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Fieldfisher have stonewalled questions about the impact of extremely close links between the two organisations on SRA tenders won by Fieldisher and the dropped investigation into its senior partner.
The SRA was compelled to investigate Matthew Lohn, Fieldfisher's senior partner, after he stepped down as chair of the British Horseracing Authority's disciplinary panel when it was revealed that Fieldfisher had provided the BHA with paid legal advice which opened the panel up to accusations of a conflict of interest.
Shortly after the SRA closed down its investigation into Lohn in February 2017, it awarded Fieldfisher a place on its General Counsel Panel, in July 2017. Fieldfisher's bid was co-led by Lohn, but the SRA refused to tell RollOnFriday whether its investigation into Lohn overlapped with the submission and consideration of his firm's bid.
An SRA spokesman said, "no solicitors under investigation were involved in the process”. However, 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".
Sources subsequently informed RollOnFriday that the SRA's General Counsel, for whom Fieldfisher now acts as a member of her General Counsel Panel, is an ex-Fieldfisher partner. Juliet Oliver, who as SRA GC is also the Executive Director of Case Direction, worked in Lohn's regulatory team until 2015, and was made up to the partnership under Lohn's watch in 2011.
A horse with an advantage, yesterday.
Asked if Oliver recused herself from the tender process, or if the GC or anyone else put pressure on the caseworker investigating Lohn to drop the investigation into him, the SRA's spokesman did not address the investigation into Lohn, but repeated that “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”.
Asked if Lohn and Oliver communicated with each other, or via others, during the bidding process or the SRA investigation into Lohn, the SRA declined to comment further. Fieldfisher declined to comment.