mardi 24 juillet 2012

Les échanges entre avocats d'un même cabinet dans le cadre d'une transaction commerciale sont couverts par le secret professionnel

par Karim Renno
Irving Mitchell Kalichman s.e.n.c.r.l.

Rare est la jurisprudence sur l'application du secret professionnel dans le cadre d'une transaction commerciale. En effet, de telles transactions font assez rarement l'objet d'un litige public. C'est pourquoi j'attire aujourd'hui votre attention sur la très intéressante décision de l'Honorable juge Joel A. Silcoff dans BCE Inc. c. Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board (2012 QCCS 3391), où celui-ci indique que les échanges entre avocats d'un même cabinet sont couverts par le secret professionnel même si l'information contenue dans ces échanges n'est pas nécessairement de nature juridique.


Saisi du litige à titre de juge de gestion, le juge Silcoff est appelé à trancher des objections. Certaines de celles-ci ont trait au secret professionnel, ce qui implique qu'il doit faire une revue des principes applicables en la matière. L'extrait complet de son jugement mérite d'être reproduit:
[31] It is trite law that one of the objectives of attorney-cient privilege is to permit parties to consult an attorney in full confidence and to permit him or her to perform their duties and mandate in respect of this confidence. To perform such mandate, whether in the context of litigation or, as in the present case, of a transactional context, attorneys must work within a certain zone of privacy and have confidence that such privacy will be respected. 
[32] See in this regard: Royer, J.C., La Preuve Civile, 4th ed., including authorities cited by the author in footnotes 348 and 349 of the text:
Pour remplir adéquatement son rôle, un avocat doit pouvoir agir en toute liberté dans le secret de son cabinet, sans être forcé de révéler à la partie adverse et au tribunal, ni les informations confidentielles reçues de son client, ni le contenu de son dossier. S’il en était autrement, les avocats éviteraient de préparer ou de conserver des documents préjudiciables à leurs clients, ce qui aurait pour effet de nuire à l’exercice de leur profession. [p. 1004]
[33] It is generally agreed that, in the context of litigation, communications between lawyers of the same firm are regarded as part of the lawyer’s brief (or work product) and accordingly subject to litigation privilege. This privilege covers, inter alia, all internal memoranda, drafts of opinions, handwritten notes, working papers, copies of the relevant case law, etc. It also includes all internal communications among the lawyers of the same firm.  
[34] See in this regard: Susan Hosiery Limited v. Susan Hosiery Limited v. Minister of National Revenue, [1969] C.T.C. 353 (Ex. T.) para. 10:
Turning to the “lawyer’s brief” rule, the reason for this rule is, obviously, that, under our adversarial system of litigation, a lawyer’s preparation of his client’s case must not be inhibited by the possibility that the materials he prepares can be taken out of his file and presented to the court in a manner other than that contemplated when they were prepared. […] If lawyers were entitled to dip into each other’s briefs by means of the discovery process, the straightforward preparation of cases for trial would develop into a most unsatisfactory travesty of our present system.
[35]  See as well: Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495 (1946), pp. 510-511; Keefer Laundry Ltd. v. Pellerin Milnor Corp. et al., 2006 BCSC 1180 (CanLII). 
[36] Although aside from Royer, cited above, there appears to be little jurisprudential authority on the subject involving negotiations between opposing lawyers in a transactional context, the Court finds the principles adopted to protect litigation privilege are appropriately applied by reference, with necessary modifications, in the particular circumstances of the present dispute. Commenced in a transactional context, the dispute has now evolved and clearly morphed into a litigation context with monetary claims in the order of $1.2 billion very much in dispute.  
[37] Counsel argues in Plaintiff’s Outlineof Argument :


[38]  The Court concurs. 
[39] The same principles find application with respect to internal discussions within a law firm among attorneys involved in performing a particular mandate. 
[40] In Defendants’ Plan of Argument, counsel addresses what he contends is the limited scope of communications subject to professional secrecy. In support of his arguments seeking the dismissal of Plaintiff’s objections to the numerous questions requiring answers to what he characterizes as “alleged pure matters of fact not covered by professional secrecy”, counsel cites an extensive extract of the Beauregard Judgment and the authorities cited therein. Additional reference was made to, and the Court has examined, an extensive list of authorities in support of Defendants’ assertions regarding the non-confidential nature of pure matters of fact passing between a client and his attorney.  
[41] Counsel argues in particular at paragraphs [163] to [166] of its Defendants’ Plan:
[163] Plaintiff, in instituting the present action, has indeed put in issue its volonté réelle i.e. its true intention in proposing certain terms in the negotiation of the contract and ultimately accepting to be bound by the contractual provisions at issue. As outlined above, no representative of the Plaintiff examined thus far seems to be in a position, or has been permitted by the Plaintiff, to provide any serious and credible evidence on this topic. This is the context in which the Court must consider the Plaintiff’s objections. 
[164] Fundamentally, many of the objections raised by the Plaintiff relate to non-privileged facts and information which by definition simply cannot be viewed as confidential and to which the Defendants are entitled in the preparation of their defence. 
[165] The Plaintiff’s volonté réelle constitutes an objective fact or set of facts which cannot, by definition, be conceived of as something confidential 
[166] The contrary notion would be entirely absurd and would mean that a party to a contract could forever conceal the fact of its true contractual intention throughout the negotiations leading to the conclusion of the contract, simply by involving a lawyer in the process.
[42] The Court concurs, in part, with counsel’s assertions cited above. However, the generalities of these assertions regarding objective facts do not always find application in the present circumstances. While it may be true that Plaintiff’s volonté réelle in proposing certain provisions of the Definitive Agreement may very well be one of the relevant issues to be determined on the merits of these proceedings, the fact that, as Defendants contend, …no representative of the Plaintiff examined thus far seems to be in a position, … to provide any serious and credible evidence on this topic , does not, for this reason alone, cause such information, when communicated to an attorney for the purpose of and in the performance of his mandate, to lose the otherwise confidential nature of the communication. A confidential communication by a client to his attorney in the performance of his mandate does not cease to be confidential and become a non-privileged “objective fact” simply because certain non-lawyer witnesses examined to date are unable to provide the evidence sought to be obtained by Defendants.  
[43] Defendants’ contentions regarding their inability to discover Plaintiff’s volonté réelle from the non-lawyer witnesses examined to date do not, for this reason alone, permit an attorney to breach his obligation of confidentiality.
Cette décision est très intéressante : elle indique clairement que les communications entre collègues du même cabinet à propos d'une transaction sont couvertes par le secret professionnel. On pense, par exemple, aux notes de service qui expliquent la structure d'une transaction ou la structure des compagnies impliquées.

Nous suivrons cette cause pour voir si elle sera portée en appel.

Le texte intégral du jugement est disponible ici: http://bit.ly/SSin5m

Référence neutre: [2012] ABD 252

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