December 5, 2021


Let'S Talk Law

Lawful expert privilege: issues for in-residence counsel

What is authorized specialist privilege and why does it exist?

Lawful specialist privilege guards the disclosure of confidential communications designed for the dominant intent of:

  • a shopper acquiring legal information or
  • use in present or anticipated legal proceedings.    

The privilege is recognised each beneath the popular legislation and in the uniform Evidence Functions in force across several Australian jurisdictions (such as the Commonwealth).Under the legislation, it is referred to as “client legal privilege”.

The privilege is a rule of substantive regulation and not just a rule of evidence (see Legal professional-Basic (NT) v Maurice (1986) 161 CLR 475 at 490, for every Deane J). 

Wherever it exists, the privilege belongs to the client and not the attorney.

The rationale for the generation of the privilege was to improve the administration of justice and the correct carry out of litigation by advertising cost-free disclosure among shoppers and attorneys, to enable legal professionals to give appropriate guidance and representation to their shoppers: Baker v Campbell (1983) 153 CLR 52.

In Baker v Campbell, Wilson J mentioned:

“ … the suitable safety in accordance to regulation of the privateness and liberty of the specific is an vital mark of a no cost modern society and … [the] privilege … is an crucial element in that security.

The two forms of authorized expert privilege

Continuously with the posture referred to above, the two kinds of legal skilled privilege are usually identified as “legal assistance privilege” (referred to in portion 118 of the Evidence Functions) and “litigation privilege” (referred to in part 119 of the Proof Functions).    

Legal suggestions privilege applies to private communications passing amongst a shopper and a attorney (or in some situations, among the client or attorney and a 3rd celebration) made for the dominant purpose of enabling the customer to get authorized assistance.

Litigation privilege applies to confidential communications passing among a consumer and a attorney (or in some conditions, among the client or attorney and a 3rd social gathering) created for the dominant reason of use in, or in relation to, litigation which is both on foot or anticipated.

It will be apparent from the over that, in relation to each varieties of authorized professional privilege, there are 3 components required for the privilege to implement:

  • very first, there ought to be a interaction
  • next, the conversation ought to be private and
  • third, the communication should be created for the dominant purpose of the shopper obtaining authorized information or use in present or expected legal proceedings. 

The dominant intent check

The dominant intent has been explained as the ruling, prevailing, paramount or most influential intent (see Federal Commission of Taxation v Spotless Products and services Ltd (1996) 186 CLR 404 at 416 Grant v Downs (1976) 135 CLR 674 at 678).

Importantly, this usually means that a conversation is not privileged if 1 intent for its development is to receive lawful assistance but there are other equally (or additional) essential applications.

An case in point which illustrates that situation is the scenario of Sydney Airports Corporation Restricted v Singapore Airways Ltd [2005] NSWCA 47.  In that circumstance:

  • an aerobridge at Sydney airport, operated by Qantas Airways Minimal, experienced malfunctioned, triggering a doorway to be sheared off a Singapore Airlines airplane
  • an in-house counsel for Sydney Airports Corporation Constrained (SACL) commissioned an qualified report into the incident, on behalf of SACL
  • approximately 3 decades following the incident, Singapore Airlines commenced proceedings towards SACL and Qantas 
  • in the litigation, SACL claimed privilege above the specialist report
  • SACL asserted that the report was commissioned for the dominant intent of litigation which was expected at the time of the commissioning
  • at to start with instance, McDougall J located that:
    • there were being 3 other reasons for the report which have been unrelated to litigation, specifically, to permit SACL to realize what had prompted the incident, to fulfill the Airline Operations Committee that the aerobridge was protected just before it was place back into use and so that SACL could be certain equivalent incidents did not occur in the potential and
    • whilst litigation was a fourth reason for the report, SACL experienced not discharged its onus to establish that the report was geared up for the dominant function of litigation and
  • an appeal versus that determination was dismissed, with the Court of Charm expressing (at 55):

The evidence that the report was generally to be deployed for non-privileged purposes, which reasons were of significance to the Claimant – significantly to have the aerobridge again in support – was such that even though the privileged goal may well have been the most vital single factor, it was not demonstrated to be dominant.

Waiver of legal qualified privilege

It should be observed that, where a conversation is privileged at the time of staying brought into existence, the privilege can be waived.   

In small, waiver of lawful expert privilege takes place where the occasion entitled to the privilege (that is, the client) performs an act that is inconsistent with the confidentiality which is 1 of the 3 components of authorized professional privilege referred to earlier mentioned.

Less than the popular law, the leading Australian conclusion on waiver of legal specialist privilege is Mann v Carnell (1999) 201 CLR 1.   In the uniform Evidence Functions, waiver is dealt with in portion 122. 

So, what does all this indicate for in-residence lawyers?

There is no doubt that legal skilled privilege applies the place legal information is specified by an in-house law firm in the same way as wherever it is provided by an exterior lawful adviser.  

Underneath the uniform Evidence Functions, that situation is confirmed by the definition of “client”, which features:

a man or woman or system who engages a law firm to give lawful solutions or who employs a attorney (which include under a contract of assistance)

Nonetheless, there are a couple essential dissimilarities between in-residence legal professionals and external legal advisers which can complicate the position with respect to lawful professional privilege. 

A near connection with the client

Those variances amongst in-property legal professionals and external lawful advisers include:

  • the point that an in-residence attorney is, by definition, employed by the consumer
  • the truth that an in-house law firm has, in material, only one client (and it is the similar shopper for all matters) and
  • the point that, in many circumstances, reporting traces are structured in this kind of a way that an in-dwelling lawyer experiences to a non-lawyer employed by the same organisation.

In combination, these things often have the result that in-residence legal professionals produce near relationships with the govt and management in their organisation.  Nonetheless, that scenario can be problematic in the context of authorized professional privilege. 

Why? Because the privilege applies only to communications that are designed in the course of a specialist partnership involving the client and the lawyer.  In those instances, a vital aspect of legal specialist privilege is the independence of the law firm, in doing his or her authorized functionality.   

In Waterford v Commonwealth (1987) 163 CLR 54, Brennan J described that independence is necessary (at 70):

“ … in order that the personalized loyalties, responsibilities or passions of the adviser ought to not influence the legal suggestions which he [or she] offers or the fairness of his [or her] perform of litigation on behalf of his [or her] customer.

The value of independence in this context is revealed by the judgment in Seven Community Ltd v News Ltd [2005] FCA 142.  In that scenario:

  • News Limited claimed privilege over 22 paperwork
  • most of these paperwork have been inner communications among firm executives and the Main Standard Counsel
  • however, the evidence showed that the Main Common Counsel was closely associated in the generating of business decisions, which includes that he was:
    • a director or alternate director of six firms in the News Ltd corporate team
    • a member of the Partnership Govt Committee, and
    • actively concerned in professional negotiations
  • in these situations, 7 Community contended that the Main General Counsel did not have the independence demanded for authorized qualified privilege to implement
  • in relation to 17 of the 22 files in concern, the Federal Courtroom agreed and
  • it was held that the dominant purpose check was not satisfied for the reason that the Court docket was not confident that the Chief Basic Counsel was performing in a lawful purpose or that the promises for privilege were being dependent on an independent and neutral authorized appraisal.

Lawful vs commercial communications

One more element which can from time to time come up for in-home lawyers but is ordinarily not related for exterior lawful advisers is a blurring of the line involving legal advice and non-authorized (or industrial) suggestions.

To a huge extent, that occurs mainly because of in-household lawyers becoming demanded to execute both of those lawful and commercial functions, rather than legal features only.  A prevalent instance is where by the Basic Counsel of a large company is also the Firm Secretary or Head of Threat/Compliance.

In the Sydney Airports situation referred to previously mentioned, Spigelman CJ experienced this to say on that concern:  

An in-dwelling solicitor is, by rationale of his or her situation, more most likely to act for reasons unrelated to lawful proceedings than an exterior solicitor who, in the typical system, has no relevant function other than that involving authorized proceedings and/or lawful guidance.  An in-house solicitor may possibly really nicely have other features.  Appropriately, in determining whether or not or not a document was brought into existence for a objective which was both equally privileged and dominant, the standing of the legal practitioner is not irrelevant.

Sensible Suggestions

In view of the over, you may well now be inquiring you what an in-house attorney can do in trying to find to ensure that communications which are genuinely the topic of legal expert privilege can endure a obstacle to the privilege.

Helpfully, there are a couple practical actions which can be executed and which may possibly help in retaining a declare for privilege more than communications by in-dwelling counsel.

The structuring of work arrangements

For the reason that a agreement of work contains a description of the function and tasks of the personnel, it can assist in evidencing the truth that communications involving an in-house lawyer are privileged if his or her agreement of work is drafted in this sort of a way as to emphasise the lawful character of the part (in distinct, with the main duty becoming the provision of lawful guidance to the organisation).

Even more, it is contrary to the notion of independence if an in-house lawyer’s key effectiveness indicators or remuneration/reward framework consist of requirements that are pertinent in evaluating whether or not the business enterprise has been fiscally thriving (these types of as profit degrees).  In other words and phrases, if a Court sees that an in-house lawyer is incentivised by the enterprise accomplishing increased financial good results, it might be more cautious about accepting a submission that the lawyer’s guidance is actually impartial.

Yet another issue which may be crucial in developing prior to a Court that sure communications are privileged is whether the pertinent in-house attorney has a present practising certification.  If an in-residence law firm maintains a current practising certification, this can be of fantastic guidance in exhibiting that he or she is performing in a skilled authorized ability.

Independence procedures

If there is a policy which states clearly that the function of the in-household attorney is to deliver unbiased lawful information and that industrial people within the organisation should really not in any way seek to undermine that independence, this might also assist in evidencing to a Court that communications involving the in-residence attorney are privileged.

Reporting lines

Where by an in-residence law firm experiences to a non-law firm, it can be complicated to persuade a Courtroom that the guidance of the extra junior individual is impartial and satisfies the dominant reason examination.

Hence, the place a social gathering is trying to get to set up in advance of a Court that communications involving an in-dwelling attorney are privileged, it is much better if the pertinent in-dwelling law firm experiences to an additional in-household lawyer. 

Of class, where the in-house law firm is the most senior law firm utilized by the organisation (for example, the Typical Counsel), that will not be feasible.  In all those situation, the issues referred to above (these kinds of as work arrangements and independence procedures) can turn out to be even more major.   

Figuring out the potential in which any individual communication is built

In respect of each individual piece of work done by in-house counsel, it assists if they are very clear in their very own thoughts as to which “hat” they are carrying i.e., lawful or non-authorized/industrial.  

To the extent that this flows via to other things, (these types of as the work title employed in an e mail indicator-off), they should also be very clear to some others on the very same level.

Applying an proper label

At last, although not determinative in by itself, it does no damage to state in a doc that its objective is to present legal suggestions (or for use in litigation) and label the document with anything like “subject to authorized specialist privilege”, in which that is truly the case.

That mentioned, these types of a label must not be applied on a “blanket” basis to all communications irrespective of regardless of whether they are privileged mainly because in all those circumstances, the label results in being fundamentally meaningless and real claims for privilege can be undermined by the use of the label on other, non-privileged communications.