1 Feb 2013

No conflict of interest for football lawyers

Let me do what I can to clarify matters over the fog of claim and counterclaim across Glasgow today and beyond regarding the legal firm Harper Macleod’s involvement in the Lord Nimmo Smith Independent Commission.

The charge by Rangers fans is that somehow, because this large firm has also represented Celtic in the past, there is a conflict of interest here. I have been down this road before on behalf of Rangers fans and an earlier blog dismissed this notion unambiguously.

The legal pool in Scotland is small. Harper Macleod are considered by many as the go-to firm for legal advice on the law in sport. They are legal reps for the coming 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Most would consider them the brand leaders in this field of legal expertise.

As such, this large firm repesents all clients from all organisations much as any other law firm does, as clients come through the front door. That does not imply or make for, any conflict of interest per se whatsoever. The firm simply represents those who ask for representation. It is how any law firm works, large or small. Representing Celtic in one place does not imply a conflict of interest when representing the SPL in a case involving Rangers.

Acting independently without fear or favour according to the law, case by case, is the simply bedrock of legal representation worldwide and if you dispute that, the entire legal system becomes meaningless.

Acting for Celtic and Rangers simultaneously in a hypothetical dispute between the two would – clearly – be a conflict of interest. Moving from client to client and case to case, simply is not. Clear?

I will show below how the name of Harper Macleod has been used online maliciously to create a minor internet squall over spurious conflict of interest claims – but that is often the nature of the internet as we all know. See it and dismiss it.

However, where Rangers fans may have a reasonable gripe is the apparent conduct of the Scottish Premier League in all this. The SPL was widely quoted in the media last autumn as saying it had hired Harper Macleod to gather paperwork for the Commission but implied the work was peripheral in nature and that position was duly publicised.
Some claim this implied that were Harper Macleod to become more centrally involved, that might in the view of the SPL constitute a conflict of interest.

Now we know that Harper Macleod acted for the SPL throughout the Commission it does appear that the SPL might need to clarify its position. I believe this will happen early next week.

Sadly the SPL have not been able to offer any comment today.
So what of the internet skullduggery?

Harper Macleod to the best of my knowledge have never made any statement on their involvement  in the Commission and it would be surprising if they had. Plenty of others appear to be doing so on their behalf however, in order to pursue their own agendas quite apart from reality and the facts.

Last night there was a posting online by a Rangers fans’ organisation which linked to a statement purporting to have come from Harper Macleod dated September 14th, letterhead and all. Except the language struck me as phoney –¬† tabloid in style and construction. It seemed highly unlikely this was from a major legal firm, even though their letterhead appears above the words. But I decided in fairness to pursue it today….just in case.

Sure enough, it soon became clear that I could find no such statement from Harper Macleod on or around this date. I stand to be corrected but think it highly unlikely they would be in the business of commenting upon such matters at all. But a cursory check of the tabloids around that date soon reveals that the “Harper Macleod Conflict of Interest” statement widly posted online is, in fact, three paragraphs from an article¬† in the Daily Mail on September 14th.

In sum:
1. there is no conflict of interest for Harper Macleod
2. the SPL position on this does appear to need clarification and I hope to bring it to you next week
3. Rangers fans do their club no service by stirring all this up with internet fiction

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