ICBC Law

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No – You Can’t Call Evidence Suggesting Your Client is a Criminal Without Instructions

Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, with critical comments canvassing the conflict of interest that can arise when a defense lawyer is taking instructions from a Defendant’s insurer.

In the recent case (Kirilenko v. Bowie) the Plaintiff was involved in a collision and sued for damages.  The plaintiff alleged the collision caused a severe and disabling traumatic brain injury.

Mid trial the Defendant’s lawyer brought an application seeking permission for a police officer to testify who would provide evidence of both the Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s involvement in what the court described as “the drug culture“.

The Defendant’s lawyer argued this evidence would be important in helping the Court’s assessment of damages.

In refusing this evidence in the court noted that counsel would not provide “a straight answer” about whether they had instructions from the Defendant directly to call such potentially damaging evidence (as opposed to the Defendant’s insurer).

In refusing to allow the evidence in Mr. Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:

[11]         If the defendants were to tender evidence in this proceeding of the plaintiff having been trafficking in drugs along with the defendant Ms. Bowie, I would, in the first instance, have expected that evidence to come from Ms. Bowie. Ms. Bowie’s name is not on the list of defence witnesses. The natural inference that arises from the defence’s decision not to call Ms. Bowie is an adverse one: that she does not support Cst. Tumbas’ evidence. Had Ms. Bowie testified to that effect, counsel could not call evidence to the contrary, as that would impeach their own client. I do not see how the defence should be entitled to avoid that result, simply through the expediency of not calling Ms. Bowie’s testimony. A party may not do indirectly that which it is prohibited from doing directly.

[12]         This is not just an evidentiary issue. It is an ethical one as well.

[13]         In the eyes of the court, it is Ms. Bowie, and not her insurer, who is defence counsel’s client. There have been references made to insurance in this case – for example, references by the quantum experts who have been called as to ICBC’s involvement in approving certain expenses in regards to Mr. Kirilenko’s rehabilitation. Ms. Bowie’s liability insurer, if it is ICBC, would of course have the exclusive right to conduct the action and instruct counsel under s. 74.1 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation, B.C. Reg. 447/83. However, even if that were the case, I would hesitate to allow defence counsel, on the insurer’s instructions, to tender evidence implicating a defendant insured in criminal conduct without that defendant having been given explicit notice and the opportunity to consult counsel as to her rights, and possibly to be heard on that point.

[14]         To put the matter more simply, in attempting to advance evidence possibly detrimental to the interests of Ms. Bowie, defence counsel would appear to be potentially in a conflict, acting in favour of one client to the detriment of another. I asked counsel directly whether they had instructions from Ms. Bowie that would permit them to tender evidence implicating her in criminal activity. I did not get a straight answer. The existence of any such conflict would have to be ruled out or resolved before this evidence could be admitted, or before Cst. Tumbas could be called.

[36]         I find nothing in the circumstances of this case justifies an order that Cst. Tumbas be allowed to testify and he will not be called as a witness.

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