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Evidence - Settlement Privilege - Public Interest Exception

R v Delchev (Ont CA, 2015)

In this criminal case the Court of Appeal discusses the nature of settlement privilege (aka negotiation privilege) and it's public interest exception:
[24] Settlement privilege is a class privilege, creating a “prima facie presumption of inadmissibility”: Sable Offshore Energy Inc. v. Ameron International Corp., 2013 SCC 37 (CanLII), [2013] 2 S.C.R. 623, at para. 12. Settlement privilege applies only if the following conditions are met:
(1) A litigious dispute must be in existence or within contemplation.

(2) The communication must be made with the express or implied intention that it would not be disclosed to the court in the event negotiations failed.

(3) The purpose of the communication must be to attempt to effect a settlement. [A.W. Bryant, S.N. Lederman & M.K. Fuerst, Sopinka, Lederman & Bryant: The Law of Evidence in Canada, 4th ed. Markham: LexisNexis Canada, 2014), at p. 1039; citations omitted.]
[25] The appellant takes issue with the third of these requirements. He argues the offer was not made for the purpose of achieving settlement or compromise, but rather “with some other object in view and from wrong motives”: Pirie v. Wyld (1886), 11 O.R. 422 (H.C.).

[26] While the Crown’s offer was unusual, I am not prepared to infer that resolving the appellant’s charges was not at least some part of the purpose of the offer. Settlement does not have to be the only purpose of a settlement negotiation in order for privilege to apply. It is not uncommon for a resolution offer to include an agreement that an accused will testify for the Crown in another matter. The resolution discussion here was arranged so that the Crown could make an offer of settlement, albeit a highly unusual one. All the parties involved understood that a settlement discussion was occurring.

[27] Settlement privilege applies to the discussion and the evidence from the discussion is prima facie inadmissible on the abuse of process motion. However, based on the circumstances of the discussion and the content of the offer, I would conclude the evidence is admissible as an exception to settlement privilege. I will explain.

(c) Does an exception to settlement privilege apply?

[28] Exceptions to settlement privilege will be found when the justice of the case requires it: Sable Offshore, at para. 12. As the Supreme Court held in Sable Offshore, at para. 19, to justify an exception:
a defendant must show that, on balance, “a competing public interest outweighs the public interest in encouraging settlement”. These countervailing interests have been found to include allegations of misrepresentation, fraud or undue influence, and preventing a plaintiff from being overcompensated. [Citations omitted; emphasis added.]
[29] Below, I first consider whether “the public interest in encouraging settlement” would be furthered by preventing admission of the discussion in this case. I then determine whether the appellant’s allegation of prosecutorial misconduct constitutes a “competing public interest” that outweighs the public interest in encouraging settlement as applied to the facts of this case.

[30] The public interest in and rationale behind settlement privilege was summarized by the Supreme Court in Union Carbide Canada Inc. v. Bombardier Inc., 2014 SCC 35 (CanLII), [2014] 1 S.C.R. 800, at para. 31:
Settlement privilege is a common law rule of evidence that protects communications exchanged by parties as they try to settle a dispute. Sometimes called the “without prejudice” rule, it enables parties to participate in settlement negotiations without fear that information they disclose will be used against them in litigation. This promotes honest and frank discussions between the parties, which can make it easier to reach a settlement: “In the absence of such protection, few parties would initiate settlement negotiations for fear that any concession they would be prepared to offer could be used to their detriment if no settlement agreement was forthcoming” (A. W. Bryant, S. N. Lederman and M. K. Fuerst, The Law of Evidence in Canada (3rd ed. 2009), at para. 14.315).
[31] In other words, settlement privilege is important because parties would be reluctant to engage in settlement discussions if those discussions could be admitted at trial as evidence of concessions. The exceptions to this general privilege are justified where evidence of the settlement or negotiations is intended for use other than illustrating the weaknesses of one party’s case: see Sopinka, Lederman & Bryant: The Law of Evidence in Canada, at pp. 1044-1045; R.W. Hubbard, S. Magotiaux & S.M. Duncan, The Law of Privilege in Canada, vol. 2, loose-leaf (Toronto: Thomson Reuters Canada, 2014), at pp. 12-96.1 to 12-96.2 (September 2014). If a party is not seeking to admit the settlement offer or negotiations as evidence of a concession, an exception to settlement privilege would do little to detract from the “public interest in encouraging settlement”.

[32] In the instant case, the appellant was not attempting to adduce the Crown’s settlement offer as evidence that the Crown had a weak case. While the respondent notes that the appellant did attempt to use the offer for such a purpose on his sentence appeal, the issue here is whether the contents of the settlement discussion are admissible to allege abuse of process. The allegation of abuse of process is unrelated to the merits of the Crown’s case against the appellant. Admission of the settlement offer on the abuse of process motion would have a minimal effect, at most, on the goal of encouraging settlement.

[33] I turn now to whether there is a “competing public interest” that militates in favour of an exception to settlement privilege. As stated above, these competing “interests have been found to include allegations of misrepresentation, fraud or undue influence, and preventing a plaintiff from being overcompensated”: Sable Offshore, at para. 19. In my view, an allegation of prosecutorial misconduct constitutes an analogous countervailing interest.

[34] An allegation of prosecutorial misconduct is analogous to the examples provided by the Supreme Court in Sable Offshore of misrepresentation, fraud and undue influence. These examples all suggest that one party has engaged in wrongdoing that may have led to an unjust settlement or that may have tainted the conduct of the litigation itself. It is in the interests of justice for a person who has been wronged to be able to present evidence of the alleged wrongdoing before the court.

[35] This policy objective is amplified when the alleged wrongdoing is an abuse of process by the Crown. While the stakes may be high in many civil proceedings, in the criminal context, the risk that an accused person may be deprived of his or her liberty in circumstances amounting to an abuse of process is very serious indeed. As stated by L’Heureux-Dubé J., writing for the majority of the court in R. v. O'Connor, 1995 CanLII 51 (SCC), [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411, at para. 63:
It would violate the principles of fundamental justice to be deprived of one's liberty under circumstances which amount to an abuse of process and, in my view, the individual who is the subject of such treatment is entitled to present arguments under the Charter and to request a just and appropriate remedy from a court of competent jurisdiction.
[36] I would note that there is a distinction between whether the Crown must justify its exercise of discretion and whether an exception to settlement privilege applies such that the accused can put the statements made to him by the Crown before the court. An accused is permitted to give evidence of a settlement offer made by the Crown in order to argue that the settlement offer constituted an abuse of process; by contrast, the Crown will only exceptionally be required to justify that exercise of discretion.

[37] In my view, the appellant has raised a countervailing public interest – alleged prosecutorial misconduct amounting to an abuse of process – that outweighs the public interest in promoting settlement in the circumstances of this case.

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