You are an accountant in public practice with a number of small business clients. Two police officers come to your office and ask to see the files of one of your clients who owns a corner store.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
The issue is one of confidentiality. (ACCA Rulebook 2009 3.5 Professional duty of confidence in relation to defaults and unlawful acts of clients and others – paragraphs 37 – 39 Prosecution of a client or former client)
You should always be polite and courteous to the police but you also have a duty to your client. You should therefore ascertain under what authority the police are requesting the information. If a search warrant is produced or they are acting under other statutory or court authority you must comply. If you are in any doubt, you should seek your own independent legal advice.
If you are unfamiliar with the legal documentation and/or you are unable to obtain your client’s authority you may wish to obtain your own legal advice as to the legal effect of such documentation and your own position before taking any further action.
In all other situations, you should explain to the police that under the rules of your professional body you are not in a position to discuss your client’s affairs without their authority or appropriate statutory or Court authority.
Other things to consider
The only times you can divulge information about a client without their authority is:
- when those requesting the information have statutory authority
- it is in the public interest (ACCA Rulebook 2009 3.5 Professional duty of confidence in relation to defaults and unlawful acts of clients and others – paragraphs 31-33 Disclosure in the public interest)
- to protect your own interests in certain circumstances (Rulebook 3.5 paragraph 34).
In addition to the police, examples of other appropriately empowered authorities could include taxation authorities, fire authorities, health & safety and those empowered under local jurisdictions.