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Legal experts raise concern about Ben Roberts-Smith’s personal relationship with lawyer

Lynda Crowley-Cyr, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Southern Queensland, said lawyers should generally avoid having any kind of personal relationship with their client while in a lawyer-client relationship.

She said the obligation to remain professionally independent and impartial was on the lawyer, not the client.

“A friendship could potentially jeopardise the professional relationship. Lawyers’ first obligation is to the court,” she said.

“Relationships with clients, whether romantic or platonic friendships, risk clouding the lawyer’s obligations to remain impartial and independent.”

Associate Professor Crowley-Cyr said in this case Mr Roberts-Smith may have access to classified information as he was also the subject of an investigation by the Defence Inspector-General, but the relationship with his lawyer “does not mean he will divulge sensitive information to her”.

“This should not be assumed. The obligation to keep national security/sworn secret information secret is on him, not the lawyer.”

Greg Barns, a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said the general rule was that lawyers are professionals and “you should not have romantic relationships with your clients, and it can in fact result in disciplinary actions brought by the legal regulator in your jurisdiction”.

“This is not the first time that it has happened, it doesn’t happen very often. Generally speaking, if it comes to light there has been a relationship between the solicitor and a client, the legal regulator will look at the issue,” Mr Barns said.

The High Court has previously ruled a sexualised relationship between a solicitor and client is improper and unprofessional, but it does not of itself constitute misconduct and and automatically result in being struck off a case or disqualified.

The defamation case is highly sensitive, with Attorney-General Christian Porter earlier this year invoking the National Security Information Act to gag parts of the civil trial.

The Commonwealth has asked for a series of rules to be adopted to ensure national security would not be compromised in court hearings, including provisions that permit lawyers to use laptops that hold classified documents only in specially designated rooms and only if lawyers have accreditation from Defence officials.

Ms Allen and her company were contacted for comment.

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