Legal professional privilege protects all communications between a professional legal adviser and their client 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 an individual's access to the justice system by ensuring they can disclose all relevant information to their legal advisers without the fear 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 if the lawyer 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 records at the time of disclosure.
Notwithstanding the lawyer-client privilege, a lawyer may disclose certain documents / information 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 for which the law or regulation was required.
Pursuant to Article 51 of the Qatar Code of Law Practice, the concept of legal professional privilege in the State of Qatar is limited to the professional relationship between a lawyer and their client, through the lawyer’s obligation to keep confidential all information disclosed by their client.
Further, Article 265 of the Qatar Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, prohibits a lawyer or an agent from disclosing information that they obtain in connection with their professional retainer. Fundamentally, the obligation of confidentiality remains in place even after the professional has ended their retainer with the 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 of the client. A key point to note is that neither the Code of Law Practice nor the Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure apply to in-house legal counsel who provide their services on an employment basis. In-house lawyers are instead governed by the Qatar Labour Law. However, to protect information or communications passing between in-house counsel and the employer, it may be possible for a confidentiality agreement to be put in place.
While it may be expected that the concept of legal professional privilege would be more widely applicable within the Qatar Financial Centre ("QFC") (due to the common law basis of its jurisdiction), there are currently no references to the concept in the QFC legal corpus. Accordingly, the above position is also likely to stand in the QFC.
Legal professional privilege in the context of merger control
Legal professional privilege has not been clearly defined within the context of merger control in Qatar.