Nederlandse Reassurantie Groep Holding NV v Bacon and Woodrow Holding: 1995

A Dutch corporation had obtained advice from lawyers and other professionals before purchasing share capital in insurance companies. After the purchase the corporation discovered that it was exposed to large losses and began proceedings in negligence against its non-legal advisors.
Held: Such claims did not give rise to an implied waiver in relation to privileged communications between the corporation and its legal advisors.
The statement of the law in Balabel v Air India does not disturb or modify the principle affirmed in Minter v Priest, that all communications between a solicitor and his client relating to a transaction in which the solicitor has been instructed for the purpose of obtaining legal advice will be privileged, notwithstanding that they do not contain advice on matters of law or construction, provided that they are directly related to the performance by the solicitor of his professional duty as legal adviser of his client.
Colman J said: ‘The true analysis of what the courts are doing in such cases of so-called implied waiver of privilege is, in my judgment, to prevent the unfairness which would arise if the plaintiff were entitled to exclude from the court’s consideration evidence relevant to a defence by relying upon the privilege arising from the solicitor’s duty of confidence. The client is thus precluded from both asserting that the solicitor has acted in breach of duty and thereby caused the client loss and, to make good that claim, opening up the confidential relationship between them and at the same time seeking to enforce against that same solicitor a duty of confidence arising from their professional relationship in circumstances where such enforcement would deprive the solicitor of the means of defending the claim. It is fundamental to this principle that the confidence which privilege would otherwise protect arises by reason of the same professional relationship between the parties to the litigation. The underlying unfairness which the principle aims to avoid arises because the claim is asserted and the professional relationship opened for investigation against the very party whose duty of confidence is the basis of the privilege. It is against the unfairness of both opening the relationship by asserting the claim and seeking to enforce the duty of confidence owed by the defendant that the principle is directed.’

After referring to Hearn v Rhay, Colman J said: ‘If the reasoning in Hearn v. Rhay was of general application it would involve a fundamental inroad into the scope of legal professional privilege. Waiver of privilege would operate if it could be established that the communications between the plaintiff and his solicitor were likely to be evidentially relevant to an issue and it would be unfair if the defendant did not have access to them in order to assist his defence. But, as I have already explained, the foundation of the waiver is not merely that the assertion of privilege leads to the inaccessibility of evidence relevant to a defence. It is the inconsistency of the plaintiff on the one hand opening the professional relationship to the inspection of the court and on the other hand seeking to enforce confidentiality so as to exclude communications to which the professional relationship between the same parties has given rise. Thus, whatever the United States courts now regard to be the scope of waiver of privilege, the reasoning in Hearn v. Rhay certainly does not represent English Law.’

Colman J
[1995] 1 All ER 976
CitedMinter v Priest HL 1930
The House was asked whether a conversation between a person seeking the services of a solicitor in relation to the purchase of real property and the solicitor was privileged in circumstances where the solicitor was being requested to lend the . .
CitedBalabel v Air India CA 1988
When considering claims for legal professional privilege, the court should acknowledge the ‘continuity of communications’. However, where the traditional role of a solicitor had expanded, the scope of legal professional privilege should not be . .
CitedHearn v Rhay 1975
(United States District Court, Eastern District of Washington) Neill CJ said: ‘All of these established exceptions to the rules of privilege have a common denominator; in each instance, the party asserting the privilege placed information protected . .
CitedLillicrap v Nalder CA 1993
A property developer sued his solicitor for negligent advice on the purchase of a property. The solicitor wished to rely on previous retainers, in which the developer had ignored advice, so as to challenge the developer’s assertions that, with . .

Cited by:
CitedThree Rivers District Council and others v Governor and Company of the Bank of England (No 6) HL 11-Nov-2004
The Bank anticipated criticism in an ad hoc enquiry which was called to investigate its handling of a matter involving the claimant. The claimant sought disclosure of the documents created when the solicitors advised employees of the Bank in . .
CitedFarm Assist Ltd v Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs TCC 12-Dec-2008
The claimant, now in liquidation, sought to have set aside for economic duress the mediated settlement of its dispute with the defendant. The defendant sought disclosure of legal and similar advice given to the claimant.
Held: Paragon Finance . .
CitedHayes v Dowding 1996
Disputes over the running of a private company had been compromised by the plaintiffs’ solicitors. The plaintiffs sought to upset the compromise on the basis that they had been induced by a misrepresentation. The Defendants sought disclosure of . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Legal Professions

Updated: 16 December 2021; Ref: scu.219419