The Lawyer’s Duty of Confidentiality

- Client Reviews

Lawyers have a duty to keep everything a client tells them confidential. This is an ethical and legal duty of the lawyer. The courts also respect the confidential nature of the lawyer-client relationship during a trial. Neither the client nor the lawyer will be asked to divulge in court what they have discussed.

The right to confidentiality is your right and not your lawyers. He cannot decide to disregard it  only you can allow him to divulge information when you decide it is appropriate. The exception to this is when a client seeks guidance in the commission of a crime or fraud. In this case, a lawyer may decide to report a client to the police/and a court may require the lawyer to divulge the information.

Many other confidential relationships are protected by professional ethics and the law. A good example is your relationship with your doctor. It is unethical and illegal for your doctor to tell other people about your health. But this confidential protection does not extend to the courtroom. If something you said to your doctor, or even your priest or minister for that matter, becomes relevant to a lawsuit, there is no legal principle that protects the confidentiality of what was said from being brought out in court. The courts can order doctors and priests to divulge the relevant information. If the doctor or priest refuses to disclose the information, he/she can be held in contempt of court.

In practice, doctors and priests have to divulge confidences very rarely. Judges and lawyers are very hesitant to force them to disclose information, unless it is crucial to an important case. Also, if a judge cites a doctor or priest for contempt for not answering there is wide discretion regarding what penalty to impose. It is quite possible that nothing will happen, depending on the circumstances.

Are any other confidential relationships protected by the court? A few. The police are not required to disclose the identity of informants. Government officials are not required to disclose state secrets. And marital communications, from one spouse to another, are also protected, though it can be waived by the person the communication was made to.

It may be upsetting to you that a judge can order to be revealed confidential information given by you to a doctor or priest. The good thing is that it doesn’t happen very often.

Greg Monforton & Partners – Personal Injury Lawyers