Thursday, March 25, 1999

Public safety can override lawyer-client privilege: ruling

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has decided that in some cases, the conversations between lawyers and clients can be revealed to court.

Psychiatrist had a right to reveal his opinion to the court It's been known as solicitor-client privilege. The Court ruled Thursday that if public safety is at imminent risk, that privilege can be denied and conversations between lawyers and their clients entered into evidence.

The case involved in the ruling had been under a publication ban since it was heard last year. It involved a Vancouver man charged with sexual assault of a prostitute in 1997. His lawyer referred him to a psychiatrist for assessment.

During his examination, the man told the doctor his plan had been to kidnap a prostitute, hold her as a sex slave and kill her. He had arranged time off from his work and had carefully prepared his basement apartment to facilitate his planned sexual assault and murder.

The psychiatrist concluded the man was dangerous. When he told the accused's defence lawyer his opinion, he was told his testimony would not be necessary.

The psychiatrist learned the judge wouldn't be informed about his concerns and decided to bring the case to the Supreme Court.

During the trial, the defence lawyer argued the psychiatrist's diagnosis was part of solicitor-client privilege because he had been hired by the defence.

The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled the psychiatrist should not only be released from any privilege, but he had a right to reveal his opinion because of its implications for public safety.

Most legal observers agree the Supreme Court's ruling sets out a narrow definition of when public safety will override solicitor-client privilege — situations they say that will rarely come up.

Meanwhile, the man at the centre of it all has yet to be sentenced for the original assault. But that doesn't mean he's been free: Crown prosecutors confirm he is behind bars.

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Created: December 6, 2000
Last modified: January 21, 2001
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