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BC Court of Appeal Summarizes Test for Asserting and Proving Litigation Privilege

The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgment today providing a concise summary of what is needed to succeed in asserting a litigation privilege claim.

In today’s case (Gichuru v. British Columbia) the Court was asked to address whether various documents were properly withheld due to claims of litigation privilege.  The BC Court of Appeal noted that the following test must be met to justify such a claim:

Madam Justice Gray then proceeded at para. 94, and following, to usefully describe the type of information necessary to sustain a claim of privilege. (Keefer Laundry concerns discovery of documents in a civil suit but the principles discussed by Gray J. are equally applicable to s. 14, the issue under consideration here.) I would adopt her comments as follows:

[96]      Litigation Privilege must be established document by document. To invoke the privilege, counsel must establish two facts for each document over which the privilege is claimed:

1.               that litigation was ongoing or was reasonably contemplated at the time the document was created; and

2.               that the dominant purpose of creating the document was to prepare for that litigation.

(Dos Santos (Committee of) v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada (2005), 40 B.C.L.R. (4th) 245, 2005 BCCA 4 at paras. 43-44.)

[97]      The first requirement will not usually be difficult to meet. Litigation can be said to be reasonably contemplated when a reasonable person, with the same knowledge of the situation as one or both of the parties, would find it unlikely that the dispute will be resolved without it. (Hamalainen v. Sippola [(1991), 62 B.C.L.R. (2d) 254])

[98]      To establish “dominant purpose”, the party asserting the privilege will have to present evidence of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the communication or document in question, including evidence with respect to when it was created, who created it, who authorized it, and what use was or could be made of it. Care must be taken to limit the extent of the information that is revealed in the process of establishing “dominant purpose” to avoid accidental or implied waiver of the privilege that is being claimed.

[99]      The focus of the enquiry is on the time and purpose for which the document was created. Whether or not a document is actually used in ensuing litigation is a matter of strategy and does not affect the document’s privileged status. A document created for the dominant purpose of litigation remains privileged throughout that litigation even if it is never used in evidence.

[33]         In Stone v. Ellerman, 2009 BCCA 294, Chief Justice Finch speaking for the Court, suggested that where the claim is litigation privilege rather than solicitor-client privilege, the description necessary to validate the claim to privilege must be more detailed. At para. 27 he held:

[27]          Some authority supports the proposition that where the privilege claimed is not solicitor-client privilege but rather litigation privilege, as in this case, the premium placed on protecting the information is lower and the description must be more detailed to facilitate challenge. In Hetherington v. Loo, 2007 BCSC 129, Master Caldwell distinguished Leung v. Hanna [(1999), 68 B.C.L.R. (3d) 360 (S.C.)] on the basis that it dealt exclusively with solicitor-client privilege. He reasoned as follows:

[8]        …The present case deals with a claim of privilege based upon the “dominant purpose of litigation” test and protection. While information such as the date and author’s identity may well be protected from disclosure under a claim of solicitor-client privilege, such protection is not necessarily afforded claims of privilege based upon the dominant purpose test. The latter protection is less absolute, more fact driven and subject to challenge. In the recent case of Blank v. Canada (Minister of Justice), [2006] S.C.J. No. 39, Fish J. said at [paragraph] 60:

the litigation privilege should be viewed as a limited exception to the principle of full disclosure and not as an equal partner of the broadly interpreted solicitor-client privilege. The dominant purpose test is more compatible with the contemporary trend favouring increased disclosure.

[9]        And at [paragraph] 61:

While the solicitor-client privilege has been strengthened, reaffirmed and elevated in recent years, the litigation privilege has had, on the contrary, to weather the trend toward mutual and reciprocal disclosure which is the hallmark of the judicial process.

[10]      In order that proper assessment may be made as to the propriety of a claim of litigation or dominant purpose privilege it is necessary that sufficient particulars of the documents be given. In most cases dealing with documents involving adjusters files and certainly in this case, particulars as to date and author must be provided. When dealing with interview notes, transcripts, and statements, it may also be necessary to identify if not the actual subject, at least the category of subject (e.g. eyewitnesses, home-care worker, etc.) involved.

[Emphasis added by Finch C.J.B.C.]

 

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