Legal professional privilege protects all communications between professional legal advisers and their clients from being disclosed without the permission of the client. The privilege is solely for the benefit of the client, and not the lawyer. The objective of this legal principle is to protect one's access to the justice system by ensuring individuals can disclose all relevant information to their legal advisers without the risk that this disclosure may result in negative repercussions or prejudice them in the future.
A lawyer ceases to be bound by the requirements of legal professional privilege protection if they can demonstrate that documentation or information:
- Was in the public domain at the time it was disclosed to the lawyer;
- Entered the public domain subsequent to the time it was disclosed to the lawyer through no fault of the lawyer; or
- Was in the lawyer's possession free of any obligation of confidence at the time it was disclosed to the lawyer, evidenced by contemporaneous records.
A lawyer may disclose certain documents / information that would otherwise be protected by lawyer-client privilege to the extent such disclosure is required by a valid order of a court or other governmental body having jurisdiction, provided that the lawyer provides the client with reasonable prior written notice of such disclosure and makes a reasonable effort to obtain a protective order preventing or limiting the disclosure and/or requiring that the documents / information so disclosed be used only for the purposes required by law.
As is the position with most civil law jurisdictions in the Middle East, there are no express privilege rules in Lebanon and parties are able to, in theory, adduce in evidence any document which may support their position. Instead, the concept of legal professional privilege in Lebanon is limited only to the professional relationship between a lawyer and their client, through the lawyer's obligation to keep confidential all communications passing between the lawyer and their client.
It appears that the same privilege protections do not apply to in-house legal counsel advising officers, directors or employees of the company as they are not independent to the client. However, to protect this information, it is possible to enter into a confidentiality agreement between the employer and the employed in-house legal counsel.
Legal professional privilege in the context of merger control
Legal professional privilege has not been clearly defined within the context of merger control in Lebanon.