Only the court, and not a client, can override a lawyer’s statutory duty of confidentiality, according to the Supreme Court.

The ruling restricts lawyers’ ability to give evidence in commercial disputes or criminal proceedings.

Polish law imposes a duty on all qualified advocates and legal counsels to maintain the confidentiality of information they receive from their clients while rendering legal services. It does not state whether clients can release their lawyers from this duty.

In recent bar disciplinary proceedings, a lawyer was found to have breached his duty of confidentiality, when giving evidence in criminal proceedings against his former client.,In his testimony, the lawyer included  information that he had received while acting in the client’s divorce and which his client had consented to him disclosing because it helped his case.

The decision issued in disciplinary proceedings was appealed to the Supreme Court, where it was argued that a client should be able to release his lawyer from the duty, as it was the sole beneficiary of the confidentiality. However, the Supreme Court rules that the client’s interests could not override the duty and that lawyers could only be released from it, in exceptional cases, by the court.

This means that lawyers should not refer to any client-confidential material in their evidence in criminal proceedings without the consent of the court . In civil proceedings, there is no way for a lawyer to avoid the risk of disciplinary proceedings as the court is not authorised to grant permission to disclose confidential information.

Law: Supreme Court ruling SDI 32/12 dated 15 November 2012