Solicitor’s lien insufficient grounds to deny access to personal information

Settled case summary #30

Complaint

A client sought access to her personal information from the lawyer who had been, but was no longer, representing her. Stating that his client owed him outstanding fees, the lawyer refused to give access to the requested information until her account with him was settled. In the lawyer’s opinion, allowing the client access to her file before she paid his fee could jeopardize payment of the account. The lawyer claimed to have asserted a solicitor’s lien on his client’s file.

Outcome

Subsection 9(3) of the Act provides an exhaustive list of the circumstances in which access to personal information may be refused, but the existence of a solicitor’s lien is not one of them. Therefore, solicitors must grant individuals access to their personal information even if a valid solicitor’s lien exists. If there is such a lien, the law firm could satisfy its obligations under the Act by permitting the individual to view, but not copy, his or her personal information on the solicitor’s files. As much as possible, this would permit a co-existence between, on one hand, a right to access personal information under the Act and, on the other, a valid solicitor’s lien.

A month after the client filed a complaint with the Commissioner’s office, and even though her account was still outstanding, the lawyer provided her with a complete copy of her case file. Our Office and the complainant agreed that the matter should be considered settled.

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