Understanding Privileged Communication: Definition, Examples, and Legal Implications

This article explores the concept of privileged communication, diving into the definition, the types of communications it covers, and the legal implications of revealing such communications. We will look at what qualifies for this type of protection, as well as possible exceptions to the rule.

Furthermore, we’ll explore questions surrounding confidential marriage conversations and the attorney-client privilege. In the end, readers should have a better understanding of privileged communication and how it works in various legal contexts.

What Is Privileged Communication?

Privileged communication is a type of protected relationship in which forced disclosure of certain confidential conversations and statements is restricted. This definition comes from laws that protect communication between attorneys and their clients, as well as various other circumstances. Although short-lived, the privileged nature of these communications can be upheld at any time.

Most commonly, privileged communication refers to any communication or conversation shared between two people in a context that would otherwise require disclosure if not for the privileged protection afforded to them. The most common examples are a lawyer and client communications, as well as doctor-patient conversations.

Privileged communication also covers all conversations made between a priest and a penitent in confession, whereby the content remains confidential until revealed by the informant’s own accord. Whichever the case, the law requires that these privileged communications remain unrevealed as long as doing so does not put others at risk.


In legal terms, privileged communication is a conversation or exchange that is kept confidential due to specific circumstances that protect it from disclosure. It covers any conversations or statements made between parties in a legally recognized relationship that must be safeguarded if the parties involved wish to preserve its confidential nature.

These types of relationships may include an attorney and client, healthcare provider and patient, husband and wife, or priest and penitent. In practice, this means any communications between these parties that are considered private and confidential are protected by the law and cannot be revealed without the consent of the persons involved.


When considering privileged communication, it’s important to consider some specific examples of how it applies in practice. For instance, conversations between lawyers and clients are examples of privileged communication. By law, both parties have an expectation of privacy, meaning that anything said between the two is deemed confidential and cannot be disclosed unless agreed by both parties.

Another example includes conversations between a physician and a patient. The content of these discussions remains privileged and confidential even though there is no explicit contract between the doctor and the patient like there is with the lawyer/client relationship. Finally, Confidential conversations between spouses are usually protected as well, barring matters involving criminal activity or cases of child abuse or neglect.

Although these are just a few instances, privileged communication protections encompass many other relationships and scenarios. There may also be exceptions to the rule depending on the particular circumstances and context of the communication. However, when seeking legal counsel, it’s important to understand the implications of privileged communications in order to safeguard yourself and your information.

What Qualifies as Privileged Communication?

Privileged communication is a principle of law that holds that certain communications are protected from disclosure and cannot be used as evidence in court or other proceedings. The concept is rooted in need to protect confidentiality, encourage honest dialogue between parties, and the right to receive legal advice and assistance without fear of having one’s words used against them at a later date.

Generally speaking, any private conversations, disclosures, or professional advice which falls into specific categories set out by law may be considered privileged and, therefore, legally exempt from being revealed or admitted as evidence.

Requirements for Protection

In order for a communication to qualify for privileged communication protection, certain requirements must be met. Specifically, such communications must typically meet the criteria of being confidential, communicated for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, and conducted with a qualified professional such as an attorney or doctor.

Additionally, unless specifically stated otherwise, only parties involved in the relevant proceeding can waive any applicable privilege, so any other disclosure of such information would otherwise be deemed illegal.

Types of Communications Covered

Types of communications that are generally considered privileged and thus enjoy protection from disclosure include those between a lawyer and their client, a doctor and a patient, and members of the clergy and their congregants. Furthermore, if communications between spouses occur in the course of receiving therapy, they may also benefit from such protections as long as they remain confidential.

Other types of privileged conversations may exist under various laws or organizational guidelines, but the aforementioned are among the most common. All of these communications are protected due to the expectation of privacy, so engaging in conversations with the clear intention of using them in a court of law may be deemed invalid.

How Do Communications Qualify for Privileged Communication Protection?

Privileged communications refer to conversations, documents, and other communications that are given protection from the law in order to guard their confidentiality. Generally, a communication is said to be privileged when it is made in confidence between two or more parties, who have a professional relationship such as an attorney-client, doctor-patient, or priest-penitent relationship.

For example, lawyers may benefit from privileged communication protection if they choose to keep a conversation between them and one of their clients private. In order for a communication to qualify for privileged communication protection, it must be confidential and within the course of a confidential relationship, meaning it must meet certain criteria.

Additionally, there are some exceptions to this rule where privileged communication laws do not apply.

Exceptions to the Rule

While the purpose of privileged communications is largely to protect professional relationships, exceptions exist where the law may not offer protection. One such exception is when the attorney-client relationship has been terminated. Here, the privilege no longer applies, and the information no longer remains confidential or protected by the law.

Additionally, communications that lack confidentiality or are made in furtherance of a crime will not be granted the same privilege either. This means that if there is a third party present during a client-attorney conversation or if the communication is used for criminal activity, then it is not considered privileged and can be subject to disclosure.

Even in cases where privileged communications laws exist, attorneys should be aware of what situations would require disclosure and not rely solely on the legal protections provided by these laws.

Read also how communication affects the organization

Can a Person Reveal Privileged Communications Without the Other Person’s Consent?

While privileged communication does, in most cases, seek to protect information shared between two people, there are exceptions when one party can reveal such confidential communications without the other’s consent. Generally speaking, court orders, statutory exceptions, and certain types of disclosures can all be made without both parties having to agree to it.

For instance, if a court orders the production of privileged communications or waives the privilege, then the potentially privileged material can be revealed without consent. Such waiver usually applies to subpoenas and other requests for information that may not have been expected or known when the communication took place.

Certain disclosures are also allowed without seeking permission from both parties—such as an attorney disclosing evidence or confidential communications to his or her client or to a third-party witness. Statutory exceptions may allow the disclosure of privileged communication, such as when a person’s life is at risk. In these cases, breaking the sanctity of privileged communication is acceptable. However, doing so may bring about legal action and penalties pointed toward the violator.

Other exceptions include instances wherein the privilege is waived when the confidential communication was offered into evidence in writing, verbally in open court, or sent to the opposing party via mail prior to the initial claim of privilege. In addition, privileged communication may be disclosed by a judge with the expectation that such information remains confidential yet still assist the court in its decision-making.

It is important to note that while there are situations where privileged communications can be disclosed without the permission of both parties, it should generally be assumed that any disclosure will carry legal repercussions. Thus, it is highly recommended to err on the side of caution and consult legal advice before revealing any confidential communications without both parties being aware and agreeing to it.

Are Marital Communications Protected By Privileged Communication Laws?

Marital communications are privileged conversations between spouses that are protected from being used as evidence in court. This privilege exists to protect the privacy of couples and their relationship. In order for a claim of privileged communication to be established, both parties must have intended the conversation to remain confidential, and it must have taken place during the marriage or while living together. An example of protected marital communication could be discussing financial matters such as investments or debts with one another. By protecting these conversations, couples can avoid having to relive uncomfortable moments in court if they ever find themselves involved in legal proceedings. Through the use of metaphors, similes, rhetorical questions, and active voice, this essay will explore how marital communications privilege helps protect couples from having to relive uncomfortable conversations.


Understanding privileged communications can be a complex but important process. Through this article, we have reviewed the definition, examples, legal implications, and what qualifies as privileged communication. Protected communications enable people to share information with their lawyers, doctor, and other professionals without fear of disclosure or repercussion. The extent of protection is dependent on the expectations of privacy between partners in any professional relationship. Professional obligations are imposed in legal proceedings to protect the privacy of these conversations and disclosures. If these protectors are breached, those involved could face severe legal consequences.

It’s important to remember that there are exceptions to the protected conversations rule in certain circumstances. It may be possible to reveal otherwise privileged information in certain cases, such as court orders or statutory exceptions, but counsel should be taken before proceeding.

Overall, discussing privileged communication with an attorney or other professional can help anyone understand the rules and implications better to make more informed decisions. An individual should never think twice about discussing issues out of fear their communications will not remain confidential. By educating yourself on the implications, an individual can have peace of mind knowing that whatever they discuss remains private.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of privileged communication?

An example of privileged communication is conversations between a lawyer and their client. These conversations are protected under the attorney-client privilege, meaning that the contents cannot be revealed in court absent permission from the client.

What are the types of privileged communications?

Privileged communications refer to the ten types of confidential conversations that are legally protected from being disclosed in a court of law, such as journalist-source relationships, lawyer-client relations, and psychotherapist-patient conversations.

These conversations remain confidential even if subpoenaed by a court.

Is privileged communication the same as confidentiality?

Confidentiality and privileged communication are related but fundamentally different concepts. Confidentiality is a professional rule that information shared between counselor and client is kept private.

Privileged communication refers to the legal right of individuals to keep their confidential communications with counselors protected in court settings.

What is privileged communication in counseling?

Privileged communication in counseling ensures that any information shared between a client and their counselor remains confidential and cannot be revealed without the patient’s permission. This right is established by law to ensure the safety of therapeutic conversations and protect the privacy of clients seeking counseling.

What is the meaning of privileged communication?

Privileged communication is a private and confidential legal concept that recognizes the sensitive conversations between legitimate parties such as attorneys and clients, doctors and patients, etc.

These communications cannot be used to harm or embarrass the individuals involved and are protected from disclosure by law.

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