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30 June 2020
In what circumstances will a party waive privilege over legal advice by referring to it in evidence? Reference to the fact of the advice may not be sufficient but reliance on that advice is likely to be. Further, a limited waiver of privilege over certain documents does not mean that those documents are irrelevant from a privilege point of view thereafter and that their subsequent deployment could not result in a collateral waiver. These issues have been explored in PCP Capital Partners v Barclays Bank.(1)
In 2008 Barclays Bank PLC needed to raise at least £6.5 billion in funding; PCP Capital Partners LLP agreed to contribute £3.25 billion. A disagreement followed, with PCP alleging that Barclays represented at the time that PCP would receive "the same deal" as the state of Qatar, which also invested. PCP brought a High Court claim challenging the advisory services agreements entered into by Barclays and the Qataris. PCP is claiming losses of up to £1.6 billion.
Meanwhile, in 2016 – during a set of criminal proceedings brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) against Barclays and four of its former executives – Barclays provided certain privileged documents to the SFO under what was described as a "limited waiver of privilege". Some of these documents were referred to in open court and were provided to PCP in these proceedings.
PCP clearly believed that it had an incomplete picture of the circumstances around the advisory agreements. In May 2020 it applied to the High Court for disclosure of documents that Barclays was withholding on the grounds of privilege, no doubt in expectation that they might shed further light. The backbone of PCP's claim was that Barclays had waived privilege over these documents by referring in witness statements to relevant legal advice obtained and that all of the otherwise privileged documents relating to the advisory services agreements should therefore be disclosed.
Barclays relied on four grounds:
The court rejected Barclays' submissions and made the disclosure order sought by PCP.
A succinct and clear definition of when a waiver arises is difficult to find. However, the judge noted that at its core is:
A mention of the giving of legal advice would not constitute a waiver because that alone does not amount to reliance. For example, the difference between "My solicitor gave me detailed advice. The following day I entered into the contract" and "I entered into the contract as a result of that legal advice" is that the former does not express reliance on the advice, while the latter does.
Distinction between 'effect' and 'contents' of advice
Prior case law has drawn a distinction between the 'effect' of the legal advice and its 'contents'; the judge noted that there was no mechanical way to apply this distinction.
Detailed references in Barclays' witness statements to the involvement of lawyers and to taking comfort from their advice amounted to more than simply referring to the fact of the advice. Despite acknowledging that the references were to the effect rather than the contents of advice, the judge determined that they amounted to waivers of privilege when the aforementioned factors were applied in context; the witnesses were relying on the advice to improve Barclays' case on the issues surrounding the advisory service agreements.
Collateral waiver and reliance on once-privileged documents
Barclays submitted that all of the references to legal advice concern the once-privileged documents which have already been disclosed to PCP on the basis that the SFO referred to those documents in open court. Barclays argued that deploying those documents in the High Court proceedings cannot therefore lead to any collateral waiver, as those documents were no longer privileged. The judge rejected this submission, stating that it cannot be the case that a once-privileged document which has lost that status because it has been deployed on one occasion becomes irrelevant from a privilege point of view thereafter and for all purposes because that would allow a party to avoid the consequences of any waiver by intentionally making open the documents to which that waiver relates.
The judge also rejected Barclays' factual submissions on this issue, finding that:
Was it necessary to explore each individual reference?
Barclays asked the judge to consider each individual reference to legal advice which was deemed a waiver in order to determine the particular transaction to which it related. The judge decided that this was unnecessary as Barclays was relying on all of the references to legal advice (to make its point that the advisory services agreements were lawful) and it would be impossible to question the witnesses about their belief that their legal advisers had approved all of the transactions without full disclosure of all of the legal advice. The legal advice was not produced in a vacuum and it would have been based on the entirety of the instructions received.
Additional disclosure and proportionality
The judge dismissed Barclays' argument on proportionality on the basis that the additional disclosure exercise would be modest in proportion to the value of the case. Barclays' argument that the disclosure request had been made too close to trial was also rejected on the grounds that it could not have been brought until witness statements were filed and that the documents to be provided would be needed only for cross-examination of witnesses, which was weeks away.
The key question in determining whether privilege has been lost is whether there has been any reliance on legal advice, irrespective of whether it is on the contents or merely the effect or conclusion of that advice. Therefore, any reference to legal advice could lead to privilege being lost over swathes of legal advice, even where the reference does not betray the content of any advice. For example, in this case, the witnesses' reference to taking comfort in legal advice was considered to be a waiver of privilege even though there was no reference to the contents of the legal advice.
Therefore, parties should take great care when drafting statements to ensure that references to legal advice are included only if this is essential and where the risks of privilege being waived over the entirety of the legal advice has been carefully assessed.
For further information on this topic please contact Daniel Hemming or Steven Rajavinothan at RPC by telephone (+44 20 3060 6000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The RPC website can be accessed at www.rpc.co.uk.
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