Goddard v Nationwide Building Society: CA 1986

A solicitor had acted for both purchaser and lender in a purchase transaction. The purchaser later sought to recover from the defendant for a negligent valuation. The solicitor had however discussed the issue with the plaintiff before the purchase, and he disclosed his note of the attendance on the plaintiff to the defendant. The note was protected by legal professional privilege. The defendant referred to the note in its defence, which was subsequently the subject of litigation between them, sent to the defendant a copy of his file note of the information which he had given to the plaintiff prior to the completion of the transaction. The defendant pleaded the substance of the contents of the note in its Defence. The plaintiff sought to restrain its use. The defendant now appealed against an order striking out those elements of its defence.
Held: The defendant’s appeal succeeded. In the circumstances in which the file note was made, the privilege attaching to it belonged exclusively to the plaintiff. Orders were made requiring the defendant to deliver up the document and restraining him from using it.
Nourse LJ said: ‘The second question has confronted us, in a simple and straightforward manner, with the task of reconciling the decisions of this court in Calcraft v. Guest [1898] 1 Q.B. 759 and Lord Ashburton v. Pape [1913] 2 Ch. 469. I agree that those decisions are authority for the proposition which May L.J. has stated. However unsatisfactory its results may be thought to be, that proposition must hold sway unless and until it is revised by higher authority.
. . Although, for the reasons given by May LJ, I am in no doubt that our decision must be governed by Lord Ashburton v. Pape [1913] 2 Ch. 469, the confusion which the existing authorities have caused in this case and are liable to cause in others has prompted me to deal with the matter at somewhat greater length than would otherwise have been necessary.’
It was crucial that the holder of the privilege should seek relief before the party to whom the confidential communication was disclosed has adduced it in evidence or otherwise relied on it at trial. Second, this equitable jurisdiction can prevail over the rules of evidence relating to privilege. Thirdly, the right of the party seeking equitable relief ‘does not in any way depend on the conduct of the third party into whose possession the record of the confidential communication has come’ Fourth, once the equitable jurisdiction in Ashburton has arisen, there is no discretion to rely upon views of the materiality of the communication or the justice of admitting or excluding it or like considerations: ‘The injunction is granted in aid of the privilege which, unless and until it is waived, is absolute. In saying this, I do not intend to suggest that there may not be cases where an injunction can properly be refused on general principles affecting the grant of a discretionary remedy, for example on the ground of inordinate delay.’
Fifth, even if the equitable jurisdiction can no longer apply, public policy (rather than the exercise of discretion) may nevertheless preclude a party who has acted improperly in the proceedings from using the communication. Last, there should be no distinction in the exercise of the equitable jurisdiction in relation to civil and criminal proceedings.
The court discussed the requirement for confidence in the protection given by legal professional privilege: ‘A lawyer must be able to give his client an unqualified assurance, not only that what passes between them shall never be revealed without his consent in any circumstances, but that should he consent in future to disclosure for a limited purpose those limits will be respected.’
May LJ said: ‘I think that the ratio of the decision in Lord Ashburton v. Pape was founded upon the confidential nature of the content of the letters written by Lord Ashburton to Nocton. The Court of Appeal was concerned to protect that confidence, in the same way for instance, as the courts protect the trade secrets of an employer against the unauthorised use of them by an employee, both while he remains such as well as after he has left the employment . . I confess that I do not find the decision in Lord Ashburton v. Pape logically satisfactory, depending as it does upon the order in which applications are made in litigation. Nevertheless I think that it and Calcraft v. Guest [1898] 1 Q.B. 759 are good authority for the following proposition. If a litigant has in his possession copies of documents to which legal professional privilege attaches he may nevertheless use such copies as secondary evidence in his litigation; however, if he has not yet used the documents in that way, the mere fact that he intends to do so is no answer to a claim against him by the person in whom the privilege is vested for delivery up of the copies and to restrain him from disclosing or making any use of any information contained in them.’


Nourse, May LJJ


[1987] 1 QB 670, [1986] 3 WLR 734


England and Wales


AppliedLord Ashburton v Pape CA 1913
Pape’s bankruptcy discharge was opposed by Lord Ashburton. He subpoenaed Brooks, a clerk to Lord Ashburton’s solicitor and obtained privileged letters written by Lord Ashburton to Mr Nocton, which Pape proposed to use. Pape and Brooks had colluded. . .
AppliedCalcraft v Guest CA 1898
A trial had taken place in which the principal issue was the upper boundary of the plaintiff’s fishery. On appeal the defendant proposed to rely on new evidence discovered among the papers in another action tried over a hundred years before. The . .
ConsideredButler v Board of Trade ChD 1970
Goff J discussed the criterion for admissibility of evidence:’If one rejects the bare relevance test, as I have done, then what has to be shown prima facie is not merely that there is a bona fide and reasonably tenable charge of crime or fraud but a . .

Cited by:

CitedDerby and Co Ltd v Weldon (No 8) CA 27-Jul-1990
There had been a lengthy and contentious process of discovery. Certain documents with legal professional privilege had also been handed over inadvertently. The plaintiff sought their return and an order against them being used.
Held: The . .
CitedL v L and Hughes Fowler Carruthers QBD 1-Feb-2007
The parties were engaged in ancillary relief proceedings. The Husband complained that the wife had sought to use unlawfully obtained information, and in these proceedings sought delivery up of the material from the wife and her solicitors. He said . .
CitedEnglish and American Insurance Co Ltd and Others v Herbert Smith ChD 1987
Where documents with the benefit of legal professional privilege come into the hands of the opposing side, the court should be ready to grant an injunction to prevent their misuse. . .
CitedStiedl v Enyo Law Llp and Others ComC 18-Oct-2011
The applicant, defendant in the main proceedings, sought an injunction to restrain the solicitors from acting for the claimant and from making any use of documents which had come into their privileged possession whilst acting for him. . .
CitedGuinness Peat Properties Ltd v Fitzroy Robinson Partnership CA 1987
Property developers (‘GPR’) were suing their architects (‘FRP’) in negligence. The claim against FRP was covered by a professional indemnity insurance policy. Once FRP was notified of GPR’s claim, FRP sent a ‘notification of claim’ to its insurer . .
CitedWebster v James Chapman and Co 1989
An expert’s report prepared for the plaintiff was by mistake enclosed along with a letter to the defendant’s solicitors. When informed of the mistake the plaintiff’s solicitors sought its return with an undertaking to make no use of it. The . .
CitedBell Cablemedia Plc etc v Simmonds CA 29-Apr-1997
Any person who is legitimately in premises may refer any material found there to the police. . .
CitedISTIL Group Inc, Metalsukraine Corporation Limited v Zahoor, Reventox Consulting Limited ChD 14-Feb-2003
Lawrence Collins J reviewed the authorities, and held that, where a privileged document had been seen by an opposing party through fraud or mistake, the court has power to exercise its equitable confidentiality jurisdiction, and ‘should ordinarily . .
CitedTrevorrow v State of South Australia (No 4) 16-Feb-2006
(Supreme Court of South Australia – full Court) Appeals against two decisions – Whether legal professional privilege applies to eleven documents discovered by the defendant – if privilege existed whether it had been waived – Whether defendant . .
CitedIn Re A Firm of Solicitors ChD 9-May-1995
A solicitor moving from a firm acting on one side of a dispute to the firm on the other side must be able to show that no conflict of interest would arise. The court should intervene unless it is satisfied that there is no risk of disclosure. It . .
CitedBBGP Managing General Partner Ltd and Others v Babcock and Brown Global Partners ChD 20-Aug-2010
Norris J held:
‘Although the case law refers to crime or fraud or dishonesty (such as fraudulent breach of trust, fraudulent conspiracy, trickery or sham contrivances) it is plain that the term ‘fraud’ is used in a relatively wide sense: Eustice’s . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Legal Professions, Litigation Practice, Equity

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.182250