Privileged evidence

Introduction

In certain circumstances you can use a special right that means you can refuse to hand over documents to the court or answer certain questions even if those documents or questions are relevant to the case. This is called the “doctrine of privilege”.

Rules

There are two main types of privilege:

  • Private privilege
  • Public interest privilege

Private privilege

You have a "privilege against self-incrimination". This means that you can refuse to answer questions or hand over documents that may implicate you in criminal proceedings.

You may have a "legal professional privilege". This means that a legal advisor and their client cannot be forced to reveal communications between them.

In addition, if any communication is made when legal action is being considered, then that communication is privileged even if it is not a communication between lawyer and client.

Priests are allowed to refuse to answer questions relating to what was said in the confessional. This is known as the "sacerdotal privilege". Similarly, communications with a counsellor may also be privileged.

Public interest privilege

Public interest privilege can only be used by the State. In some very limited circumstances, the State can refuse to disclose information or documents in order to protect the public interest. For example, documents about the structure and engineering of army equipment might be privileged in order to protect national security.

Further information

You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.

Page edited: 16 May 2019