Legal professional privilege (Australia)

Legal professional privilege (Australia)

:"This article is about an Australian legal term. For the Commonwealth equivalent, see solicitor-client privilege; and for the United States, see Attorney-client privilege."

Legal professional privilege in Australia, also referred to as client legal privilege, is a rule of law protecting communications between legal practitioners and their clients from disclosure under compulsion of court or statute. While the rule of legal professional privilege in Australia largely mirrors that of other Commonwealth jurisdictions, there are a number of notable qualifications and modifications to the privilege specific to Australia and its states, and contentious issues about the direction of the privilege.

History and Rationale

Legal professional privilege in Australia developed from the English common law privilege.

The rationale for legal professional privilege in an Australian context has been explained in the following ways: [ALRC Discussion Paper 73, [ "Client Legal Privilege and Federal Investigatory Bodies"] , Chapter 2.]

* encouraging full disclosure of information by a client to a lawyer;
* promoting compliance with the law by enabling lawyers to give full and considered advice on a client's legal obligations;
* discouraging litigation and encouraging alternative dispute resolution;
* protection of a client's privacy;
* protecting access to justice.

Justice Kirby of the High Court of Australia has described legal professional privilege as an "important human right deserving of special protection for that reason". ['The Daniels Corporation International Pty Ltd v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission'(2002) [ 213 CLR 543] , per Kirby J at [85] – [86] )]

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has adopted the terminology 'client legal privilege', as opposed to 'legal professional privilege', on the basis that the privilege is held by the client and not the lawyer. [ALRC Discussion Paper 73, [ "Client Legal Privilege and Federal Investigatory Bodies"] , Chapter 1, pages 22-23.] 'Client legal privilege' is the terminology used in Commonwealth and state evidence statutes. However, the common law privilege remains almost universally described by courts as being 'legal professional privilege'.

ource of legal professional privilege

Legal professional privilege in Australia is found in common law and in various statutes. Both sources reflect the two limbs of legal professional privilege: advice privilege and litigation privilege.


Sections 118 and 119 of the 'Evidence Act 1995' (Cth) provide that confidential communications created for the dominant purpose of providing legal advice or litigation are protected from disclosure to federal courts. Similar or identical provisions have been adopted in New South Wales [ [ "Evidence Act 1995" (NSW)] ] and Tasmania [ [ "Evidence Act 2001" (Tas)] ] . Legal professional privilege in the context of court proceedings is governed by the common law in the remaining Australian states.

Common law

The common law maintains a distinction between two limbs of legal professional privilege. "Advice privilege" refers to the protection of communications between a client and a lawyer for the purposes of the lawyer providing legal advice to the client. "Litigation privilege" refers to the protection of communications between a client, lawyer (and any third party) for the dominant purpose of anticipated or existing legal proceedings. There is, invariably, much overlap between the two limbs. [ALRC Discussion Paper 73, [ "Client Legal Privilege and Federal Investigatory Bodies"] , Chapter 3, pages 65-66.]

Current issues in Australian law concerning legal professional privilege

Waiver of privilege

Legal professional privilege is not absolute and it does not attach to a communication indefinitely. The privilege may be waived by the client, but not by the lawyer. Accordingly, a client's intentional or inadvertent actions in relation to their use of legal advice may preclude the client from asserting the privilege in future.

The High Court in "Mann v Carnell" [(1999) [ 201 CLR 1] ] established a test of 'inconsistency' to determine whether a client has waived legal professional privilege over a communication. That is, a client will have waived privilege where their conduct has been inconsistent with the maintenance of that privilege. The most common circumstance in which a client will be found to have waived a privilege include disclosing the full advice, or the conclusions, gist or substance of the advice, to a third party or the public at large. This raises particular problems for public figures seeking to justify a particular course of action by relying on legal advice.

Privilege and in-house lawyers

One of the most unsettled areas of privilege law in Australia is the extent to which advice provided by in-house counsel is protected. In "Telstra Corporation Limited v Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (No. 2)" [ [2007] [ FCA 1445] ] , Justice Graham of the Federal Court of Australia refused a claim for privilege over advice provided by in-house counsel of Telstra, holding 'an in-house lawyer will lack the requisite measure of independence if his or her advice is at risk of being compromised by virtue of the nature of his employment relationship with his employer'. This created concerns in the legal community as to the extent that in-house legal advice is protected from disclosure to a court [Allens Arthur Robinson Publication, [ "In-house lawyers and claims for privilege"] , September 2007] . Justice Graham did not set out any measures or criteria for determining when an in-house lawyer is sufficiently independent of his or her employer.

In "Vance v Air Marshall McCormack" [ [2004] [ ACTSC 78] ] , Justice Crispin of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory held that privilege only attached to advice provided by lawyers who had a right to practice. This judgment has substantial ramifications for in-house counsel who are not admitted solicitors.

Notwithstanding the above, there is no appellate authority on the extent to which legal professional privilege applies to advice provided by in-house counsel.

Privilege and quasi-judicial proceedings

There is conflicting authority on whether legal professional privilege applies to communications prepared for the purpose of non-judicial legal proceedings, such as in administrative tribunals or commissions of enquiry. These conflicts have generally not reached appellate level.

In "Ingot Capital Investments v Macquarie Equity Capital Markets" [ [2006] [ NSWSC 530] ] , Justice Bergin of the Supreme Court of New South Wales held that privilege did not apply to proceedings in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Justice Bergin's reasoning was that the AAT was not a court and stood outside the adversarial system of justice as an inquisitorial administrative body not bound by the rules of evidence.

The AAT itself departed from and strongly criticised "Ingot" in a decision handed down by Justice Downes in his capacity as President of the AAT. In "Farnaby and Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission" [ [2007] [] AATA 1792] , Justice Downes held that the litigation limb of the privilege applied to AAT proceedings and took the step of directing all future claims for privilege in the AAT to be handled accordingly.

The ALRC recommends extending legal professional privilege to non-judicial proceedings. [ALRC Discussion Paper 73, [ "Client Legal Privilege and Federal Investigatory Bodies"] , Chapter 3, page 72.]

ALRC inquiry

On 29 November 2006, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock asked the ALRC to inquire into legal professional privilege in the context of coercive information-gathering powers held by Commonwealth agencies. A Discussion Paper was released by the ALRC on 26 September 2007, noting the need for a clear and consistent approach to legal professional privilege in Australia and its states and territories. [cite press release |title=ALRC addresses costly disputes over client legal privilege |publisher=ALRC |date=26 September 2007 |url= |accessdate=2007-10-08]


ee also

*Privilege (evidence)
*Duty of confidentiality
*Admissible evidence

*Accountant-client privilege
*Physician-patient privilege
*Priest-penitent privilege
*Shield laws
*Reporters' Privilege
*Spousal privilege
*State Secrets Privilege
*Public Interest Immunity

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