Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Annex i29

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Ms Maria Fernandes

Thank you for your letter of the 11th October 2001which I received today the 13th October 2001.

Meeting on the 4th July 2001

As you know Mr Pathan and I attended what we thought was an informal meeting to discuss Mapesbury. You gave me no indication beforehand of the wide range of areas you wished to go into. You taped the meeting without my knowledge or consent. You said that I could request matters to be deleted from the record. I later wrote to ask for references to my firm and personal matters to be removed from the record. You wrote asking for the page references implying that they would be deleted. After I wrote to you specifically on this point you informed me that it was a matter for the Committee to decide.

You have continued asking questions about areas I have repeatedly told you that are or likely to be the subject of proceedings, confidential and or outside your remit.

You will recall that at the start of the meeting I informed you of legal proceedings and you stated that you did not wish to jeopardise them. I shall deal with that point below.

Unexpectedly you began asking questions about my practice including why it was called Fernandes Vaz. Correct me if I am wrong but there has never been any suggestion from you or anyone else that my husband was involved in any way in my practice. If you have information to the contrary can you please put it to me now.

The reason that you gave for requiring confidential information was so that you could check that the information that you had been given about the relationships with the Hindujas was complete. If you decide you do not want to answer them that is your choice.

You stated that you were not "trying to poke into my affairs" but were only focusing on this "narrow bit". You will remember my unequivocal response at that meeting. I explained that I was bound by an absolute duty of confidentiality to my clients and was not prepared to be drawn into discussing whether or not individuals were clients of my firm. I asked you to write to me in that context. In any event you said that you had "reliable information" "not known outside this office". Therefore it may be that you do not need any further information.

Your subsequent letter asks me "to approach any client who is connected in any way with the Hinduja brothers, businesses or Foundation". Such a statement is so wide that it could cover several hundred people or organisations or none.

I have consulted my professional body, the Law Society on issues of professional conduct and at their suggestion also taken further legal advice.

My Code of Conduct sets out my duty of confidentiality in detail. It is fundamental to the relationship between solicitor and client. The duty extends to members of my staff and exists beyond the grave and rarely overridden. All information including the address of clients is confidential. My duty remains intact even though the information may already be in the public domain. I have to act in the best interests of my clients.

It is particularly important to me as a solicitor married to an MP, and other professionals who are married to MPs to be able to represent their clients without fear of such information and client affairs being made public property, through the back door. I practiced law for a decade before I met my husband and I never discuss my clients with him.

You have given me no cogent reason or explained the relevance for taking the unusual step of departing from my duty of confidentiality. I am not aware that the professional and personal relationships of the spouses or partners of MPs are subject to scrutiny.

Additional questions in letter of 10th September 2001

My proceedings relate to the matters that I have asked you to delete. I am not prepared to provide any further details of the proceedings bearing in mind the fact that communications in the past have been leaked, and may be published. This could jeopardize them, which you have kindly said you wish to avoid.

I cannot tell you when the proceedings will be concluded. I think that it is fair for me to warn you that you may be called to give evidence in those proceedings if there is a dispute about the source of the newspaper article.

With regard to Mrs Martin you have asked me to explain a discrepancy without stating what the discrepancy is. I maintain what I said at the meeting. You have never explained why this is relevant to your inquiry.

I have passed the outstanding matters concerning the company to Mr Pathan with whom you have been corresponding since July.

13 October 2001

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