Client Confidentiality Vs Public Interest

Discussions between solicitors and their clients should remain between them and confidentiality is paramount. Journalists who obtain this information would argue that confidentiality is not important when it is in the public interest to reveal said information, even if it has been acquired through hacking computers for a law firm. The High Court is about to hear a case on just this matter.

The publishers of the Guardian and the BBC were taken to court by an international company which operates from several overseas offices based in tax havens. The newspaper published articles in many of its papers and the BBC produced a film documentary from which it had gleaned information from the hacked material relating to the finance industry’s use of off shore tax havens and the ethical implications.

There was no suggestion that the publishers instigated the illegal hacking or that they knew who had done so. It was agreed that the source of the documents was the law firm who offered advice on financial and other matters both to individual and corporate clients. They believed that the information was safe because of the privilege of professional confidentiality.

There was no evidence of wrong-doing on the part of the law firm but they asked for an injunction and damages from the publishers on the grounds of breach of confidence. This was challenged by the publishers because they believed they were acting in the public interest as the information showed large scale use by rich people and companies of avoidance of tax and possibly evasion of tax.

At the preliminary hearing the court decided the law firm should have the case heard by a business judge as they requested, whereas the publishers had argued that the case should go before a judge more versed in media law.