Regina v Cox and Railton: 1884

(Court for Crown Cases Reserved) The defendants were charged with conspiracy to defraud a judgment creditor of the fruits of a judgment by dishonestly backdating a dissolution of their partnership to a date prior to a bill of sale given by Railton to Cox in respect of his assets. The trial judge permitted the prosecution to call a solicitor to testify that the defendants had sought his advice as to whether anything could be done to prevent property being seized in execution by the judgment creditor and that, when he had told them that Railton could not give a bill of sale to Cox because of the partnership between them, nether Cox nor Railton had made any mention of the partnership having been dissolved; on the contrary, Railton asked whether anyone knew of the partnership, to which the solicitor replied that the only people who knew of it were Cox and Railton and himself and his clerks.
Held: A client must be free to consult his legal advisers without fear of his communications being revealed. However: ‘The question, therefore is, whether, if a client applies to a legal adviser for advice intended to facilitate or to guide the client in the commission of a crime or fraud, the legal adviser being ignorant of the purpose for which his advice is wanted, the communication between the two is privileged? We expressed our opinion at the end of the argument that no such privilege existed. If it did, the result would be that a man intending to commit treason or murder might safely take legal advice for the purpose of enabling himself to do so with impunity, and that the solicitor to whom the application was made would not be at liberty to give information against his client for the purpose of frustrating his criminal purpose. Consequences so monstrous reduce to an absurdity any principle or rule in which they are involved. Upon the fullest examination of the authorities we believe that they are not warranted by any principle or rule of the law of England, but it must be admitted that the law upon the subject has never been so distinctly and fully stated as to shew clearly that these consequences do not follow from principles which do form part of the law, and which it is of the highest importance to maintain in their integrity.’
Legal privilege does not attach where the advice sought was being obtained for the purpose of committing a crime. ‘Communications made to a solicitor by his client before the commission of a crime for the purpose of being guided or helped in the commission of it, are not privileged from disclosure.’
Referring to the rule on Greenough: ‘This rule has been accepted and acted upon ever since, and we fully recognise its authority, but we think that the present case does not fall either under the reason on which it rests, or within the terms in which it is expressed. The reason on which the rule is said to rest cannot include the case of communications, criminal in themselves, or intended to further any criminal purpose, for the protection of such communications cannot possibly be otherwise than injurious to the interests of justice and to those of the administration of justice. Nor do such communications fall within the terms of the rule. A communication in furtherance of a criminal purpose does not ‘come into the ordinary scope of professional employment’.’
Stephen J said, as regards the circumstances in which it can be assumed that the protection does not exist: ‘We have one other matter to notice. We were greatly pressed with the argument that, speaking practically, the admission of any such exception to the privilege of legal advisers as that it is not to extend to communications made in furtherance of any criminal or fraudulent purpose would greatly diminish the value of that privilege. The privilege must, it was argued, be violated in order to ascertain whether it exists. The secret must be told in order to see whether it ought to be kept. We were earnestly pressed to lay down some rule as to the manner in which this consequence should be avoided. The only thing which we feel authorized to say upon this matter is, that in each particular case the Court must determine upon the facts actually given in evidence or proposed to be given in evidence, whether it seems probable that the accused person may have consulted his legal adviser, not after the commission of the crime for the legitimate purpose of being defended, but before the commission of the crime for the purpose of being guided or helped in committing it. We are far from saying that the question whether the advice was take before or after the offence will always be decisive as to the admissibility of such evidence. Courts must in every instance judge for themselves on the special facts of each particular case, just as they must judge whether a witness deserves to be examined on the supposition that he is hostile, or whether a dying declaration was made in the immediate prospect of death. In this particular case the fact that there had been a partnership (which was proved on the trial of the interpleader issue), the assertion that it had been dissolved, the fact that directly after the verdict a solicitor was consulted, and that the execution creditor was met by a bill of sale which purported to have been made by the defendant to the man who had been and was said to have ceased to be his partner, made it probable that the visit to the solicitor really was intended for the purpose for which, after he had given his evidence, it turned out to have been intended. If the interview had been for an innocent purpose, the evidence given would have done the defendants good instead of harm. Of course the power in question ought to be used with the greatest care not to hamper prisoners in making their defence, and not to enable unscrupulous persons to acquire knowledge to which they have no right, and every precaution should be taken against compelling unnecessary disclosures.’


Stephen J


(1884) 14 QBD 153


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedP v P (Ancillary Relief: Proceeds of Crime) FD 8-Oct-2003
The parties sought guidance from the court on the circumstances which arose in ancillary relief proceedings where a legal representative came to believe that one party might be holding the proceeds of crime. In the course of ancillary relief . .
CitedUnited States of America v Philip Morris Inc and others QBD 10-Dec-2003
Witness orders were sought in respect of professionals resident in England to support litigation in the US. They objected on the ground that the terms of the order sought suggested improper behaviour, and that an order would anticipate breach of . .
CitedMiller Gardner Solicitors, Regina (on the Application of) v Minshull Street Crown Court Admn 20-Dec-2002
Police investigating crime obtained a warrant to search a solicitor’s offices for details of their clients. The solicitors appealed.
Held: The details required, namely dates of contacts with a certain telephone number were not legally . .
CitedRegina v Snaresbrook Crown Court, ex parte Director of Public Prosecutions 1988
The defendant was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice by making a false allegation of assault against the police. It was said that he must have made a false statement in his application for legal aid for the purpose of bringing . .
CitedRegina v Central Criminal Court ex parte Francis and Francis HL 1989
The police had obtained an ex parte order for the production of files from a firm of solicitors relating to financial transactions of one of their clients. The police believed that the client had been provided with money to purchase property by an . .
CitedHallinan, Blackburn-Gittings and Nott (A Firm), Regina (on the Application Of) v Crown Court at Middlesex Guildhall and Another Admn 15-Nov-2004
In a criminal investigation, the police came to suspect that a junior clerk in a barristers’ chambers was intending to give a false alibi. Though the solicitors were innocent of any wrongdoing, the police required their file. The solicitors claimed . .
CitedBowman v Fels (Bar Council and Others intervening) CA 8-Mar-2005
The parties had lived together in a house owned in the defendant’s name and in which she claimed an interest. The claimant’s solicitors notified NCIS that they thought the defendant had acted illegally in setting off against his VAT liability the . .
CitedKuwait Airways Corporation v Iraqi Airways Company (No 6) CA 16-Mar-2005
The defendant company appealed against an order allowing inspection of documents for which litigation privilege had been claimed. It was said that the defendants had been involved in perjury in previous proceedings between the parties.
Held: . .
CitedCurtis v Curtis CA 8-Mar-2001
The mother sought leave to call in evidence in proceedings for contact, an affidavit sworn by the father’s previous solicitors when applying to be removed from the record, which related the contents of telephone calls from the father to their . .
CitedMcE, Re; McE v Prison Service of Northern Ireland and Another HL 11-Mar-2009
Complaint was made that the prisoner’s privileged conversations with his solicitors had been intercepted by the police.
Held: The Act made explicit provisions allowing such interception and set out the appropriate safeguards. The interceptions . .
CitedBrown, Regina v CACD 29-Jul-2015
The claimant, a patient hld at Rampton Hospital faced charges of attempted murder of two nurses. His lwayers had asked for the right to see their client in private, but eth Hospital objected, insisting on the presence of two nurses at all times. . .
CitedChandler v Church 1987
(New Zealand) Disclosure was sought of papers said to be protected by litigation privilege on the basis of an exception because of alleged fraud.
Hoffmann J said: ‘The principle on which the plaintiffs seek disclosure is that laid down in the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Legal Professions

Updated: 19 May 2022; Ref: scu.187044