In a judgment that will be welcomed by parties seeking to enforce committal orders, the High Court has ordered a firm of solicitors to disclose a client's contact details in order to assist in the enforcement of a committal order: JSC BTA Bank v Solodchenko and others (Defendants) and Clyde & Co LLP (Respondent)  EWHC 2163.
The client, Mr S, was a defendant to an action for conspiracy to defraud. He was held to be in contempt of court for failure to comply with disclosure obligations in a freezing order against him, and was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and ordered to pay the claimant's costs of the committal proceedings. The claimant applied for an order requiring Mr S's solicitors to disclose his contact details.
The judge (Henderson J) found that the court had jurisdiction to make such an order if satisfied that it was just and convenient in order to ensure the effectiveness of an earlier order made by the court. He recognised that the order sought was likely to inhibit Mr S's fundamental right to seek legal advice from his chosen legal adviser, and that the court should as far as possible respect the express condition of confidentiality on which Mr S's contact details were supplied to his solicitors. However, in this case the balance came down in favour of ordering disclosure. There was a strong public interest in ensuring obedience to court orders and, in particular, the enforcement of committal orders. There was also a clear distinction between the right to legal professional privilege, which was absolute, and the right to protection of confidential information, which was capable of being overridden by other considerations.
The judge stated that in the absence of the committal order, he would have been unlikely to make the order sought. He commented that it was "in the highest degree unsatisfactory" that Mr S could be a fugitive from justice while he still had solicitors on the record intervening in legal proceedings as and when it suited his purpose. Although Mr S was entitled to seek and obtain privileged legal advice, he could not keep open a line of communication with his solicitors for that purpose while at the same time expecting his contact details to be withheld from those charged with enforcement of the committal order.