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Solicitors and Former Clients’ Access to Files

4th January, 2018

If you fear a claim or complaint against your firm what rights do you have to limit access to a former client and their new advisers?

The recent case of Green & Others v SGI Legal LLP Case No: CL1706093, ruled on a situation that many solicitors may have found themselves; a client has requested a file and you sort through those documents which belong to the client and those which do not. In this case the Claimants’ application for a copy of certain documents failed as the court ruled that the Claimants had no right to a further copy.

Almost all solicitors will have been asked by a client for a copy of their file and we have previously published a checklist which can help solicitors distinguish between those documents which are the property of their client and those which are the property of the firm. The checklist can be found by clicking here.

In this case, the Defendant initially supplied a copy all of the documents which belonged to the Claimants following requests made under section 68(1) of the Solicitors Act 1974 (in accordance with Law Society guidance and our checklist). The Claimants sought an order for the delivery of copies of those documents which were not supplied as they did not belong to the Claimants, but to the firm.

At the hearing the Claimants limited their applications to copies of funding documents, copies of all correspondence sent to the Claimants and copies of all invoices. In considering the facts of this case and the case law the Judge stated that if a person is to write to another and keep a copy of that correspondence, it does not mean that the recipient can demand a further copy. It was further clarified that the purpose of creating documents for the Claimants’ benefit was fulfilled when those documents are given to them and supplying a further copy is another matter. The Judge also commented upon the fact that ordinarily, the Claimants would have already received the documents they were requesting and little consideration seemed to have been given to the fact that the documents may already be in the Claimants’ possession.

Ultimately the judge ruled that the application should be dismissed and the Claimants were not entitled to those documents requested again or which belonged to the firm.

If you are unsure of what documents should be released to a client or their representative, when a request for a copy of a file has been made, please contact our Professional Practices department.

Paul Bennett

Partner in Professional Practices and Employment Law
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01743 453685

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