Thompson Newspapers Ltd v Director of Investigation and Research: 1990

(Supreme Court of Canada) The court considered a claim to exercise the privilege against self-incrimination.
Held: Whereas a compelled statement is evidence that would not have existed independently of the exercise of the powers of compulsion, evidence which exists independently of the compelled statements could have been found by other means and its quality does not depend on its past connection with the compelled statement. Accordingly evidence of the latter type is in no sense ‘testimonial’ and PSI ought not to attach to it.
Justice La Forest: ‘there is an important difference between the type of prejudice that will be suffered in the two cases. It is only when the testimony itself has to be relied on that the accused can be said to have been forced to actually create self-incriminatory evidence in his or her own trial. The compelled testimony is evidence that simply would not have existed independently of the exercise of the power to compel it; it is in this sense evidence which could have been obtained only from the accused.
By contrast, evidence derived from compelled testimony is, by definition, evidence that existed independently of the compelled testimony. This follows logically from the fact that it was evidence which was found, identified or understood as a result of the ‘clues’ provided by the compelled testimony. Although such evidence may have gone undetected or unappreciated in the absence of the compelled clues, going undetected or unappreciated is not the same thing as non-existence. The mere fact that the derivative evidence existed independently of the compelled testimony means that it could have been found by some other means, however low the probability of such discovery may have been . . . the difference between evidence which the accused has been forced to create (the compelled testimony), and the independently existing evidence he or she has been forced to assist in locating, identifying or explaining (evidence derived from compelled testimony), will be readily discernible. I believe its significance will be equally apparent.
The fact that derivative evidence exists independently of the compelled testimony means, as I have explained, that it could also have been discovered independently of any reliance on the compelled testimony. It also means that its quality as evidence does not depend on its past connection with the compelled testimony. Its relevance to the issues with which the subsequent trial is concerned, as well as the weight it is accorded by the trier of fact, are matters that can be determined independently of any consideration of its connection with the testimony of the accused.. . . What prejudice can an accused be said to suffer from being forced to confront evidence ‘derived’ from his or her compelled testimony, if that accused would have had to confront it even if the power to compel testimony had not been used against him or her? I do not think it can be said that the use of such evidence would be equivalent to forcing the accused to speak against himself or herself; once the derivative evidence is found or identified, its relevance and probative weight speak for themselves. The fact that such evidence was found through the evidence of the accused in no way strengthens the bearing that it, taken by itself, can have upon the questions before the trier of fact.’ and
‘In my view, derivative evidence that could not have been found or appreciated except as a result of the compelled testimony under the Act should in the exercise of the trial judge’s discretion be excluded since its admission would violate the principles of fundamental justice. As will be evident from what I have stated earlier, I do not think such exclusion should take place if the evidence would otherwise have been found and its relevance understood. There is nothing unfair in admitting relevant evidence of this kind …”
. . . In our judgment, the answer to the question posed by the Attorney General is ‘No’. We say that for a number of reasons. First, there is no doubt, and indeed it is not disputed before this court, that the privilege against self-incrimination is not absolute and in English law Parliament has, for a variety of reasons, in a whole range of different statutory contexts, made inroads upon that privilege.
So far as the English courts are concerned, there is, as it seems to us, no doubt that the documents to which we have referred would be regarded as admissible as a matter of law, subject of course to the trial judge’s discretion to exclude under section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
The question which next arises is whether, in deference to the Strasbourg jurisprudence, this court should give a different answer to that which the English courts and the will of Parliament otherwise suggest. It seems to us that the distinction made in paragraphs 68 and 69 of the European Court of Human Rights’s judgment in Saunders’s case 23 EHRR 313, between statements made and other material independent of the making of a statement, is not only one to which we should have regard, but is one which, as it seems to us, is jurisprudentially sound. We say this for the reasons advanced in the judgment of La Forest J in the Thomson Newspapers case 67 DLR (4th) 161 which, via reference to the South African constitutional court’s decision in Ferreira v Levin 1996 (1) SA 984, was before the European Court in Saunders’s case. In our judgment, there is nothing in any of the speeches in Brown v Stott [2001] 2 WLR 817 which contradicts this conclusion. The Privy Council were seeking to limit the scope of the privilege against self-incriminating statements and pre-existing documents revealed by compelled statements were outwith their consideration.’


Justice La Forest


(1990) 54 CCC 417

Cited by:

CitedC Plc and W v P and Secretary of State for the Home Office and the Attorney General ChD 26-May-2006
The claimant sought damages from the first defendant for breach of copyright. An ex parte search order had been executed, with the defendant asserting his privilege against self-incrimination. As computer disks were examined, potentially unlawful . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Commonwealth, Litigation Practice

Updated: 17 May 2022; Ref: scu.242453