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Article by Chadalavada Raghuraman
Category Faculties of Law





A communication once privileged is always privileged.”


                                                            Lord Cockburn in Bullock V. Corrie[1]


(Published In All India Reporter, Nagpur 





In creating more exceptions to the preservation of the ‘Attorney-Client Privilege’, (called as ‘The Privilege’ in this legal notes) Lord Thorpe, in Essex County Council,[2]  took the bold step in giving the ruling that in view of the fact that ‘welfare of the child is of paramount consideration to the Courts’, Attorneys have ‘the duty to disclose the medical and other reports’ that may contain ‘statements adverse to their clients’ interests’.


While not accepting that the privilege cannot be displaced under the Act without legislative process, Lord Thorpe declared that ‘the judge in wardship (proceedings ) held a responsibility to investigate any material relevant to the determination of  the welfare of the child, whether put before him by the parties or in adversarial range or not. Where the Court considers the welfare of the child, the power it holds enables it to override the privilege which is set up to preserve or enhance the adversarial position of  one of the parties’.[3]


The above ruling was given on the following facts.  The Local Council applied for care order in respect of a chilled of a mother who was already a drug addict. The mother opposed the disclosure of the contents of a Report, already handed over to Legal Counsel of her, prepared by a consultant psychiatrist on the general and behavior and tendency of drug addicts in matters of protecting the welfare of a childe as there were some adverse remarks about her conduct and behavior.


Lord Thorpe, in giving his ruling, did not follow the opposite view of Lord Douglas Brown in Baking and Dagenham London Borough Council V. O.[4] but ‘picked up where Lord Johnson[5] left’ and further developed the law on this point.


The disclosure of the contents of the Report was allowed.





In Baking Council, the local authority instituted child care proceedings in respect of two boys, aged 6 and 2 years, under The Children Act, 1989.  (known as ‘The Act)


Subsequent to the interim care orders passed by the Court, the mother was directed to file the 3 medical reports prepared by 3 doctors, on the advice of her Attorney, on ‘her ability to look after the welfare of the children’.


She challenged the ‘directions for disclosure’ as in her opinion these reports were part of ‘legal advise privilege’ as these reports were prepared on the advise of her Attorney as part of the proceedings.[6]


Lord Douglas Brown held that“proceedings under the ‘C Act’ were adversarial because each party was entitled to be heard, represented and had right to challenge the evidence of the opposite party in cross examination by an Attorney in which the privilege cannot be overridden except upon waiver of the party concerned and therefore the court had not power to order disclosure of medical reports obtained by her unless she wished to do so”.[7]


Lord Douglas Brown quoted with approval the earlier judicial dictum of Lord Roskill[8]  who said that“so long as we have an adversary system, a party is entitled not to produce documents which are properly protected by privilege if it is not to his advantage to produce them, and even though their production might assist his adversary, if his adversary or his solicitor were aware of their contents and might lead the Court to a different conclusion from that to which the Court would come in ignorance of their existence. Some may regret this; but the law has always allowed it and it is not for us to change the law in this respect”.


Lord Douglas Brown‘declined to follow the opposite ruling of Lord Johnson on similar facts in RE ‘A’ (a minor) when that ruling was understood to be ‘obiter’ as ‘the medical report was offered voluntarily by the Attorney acting on behalf of the mother before the Court compelled her to disclose the report’.


Lord Thorpe took itasratio for his decision by pointing out that Lord Johnson was ‘asked to rule on the point after hearing full arguments from the leading Lawyers’ though technically speaking it was an obiter.






In coming to his opinion Lord Johsnson‘drew a neat distinction between ordinary litigation and child care proceedings (or wardship proceedings) where ‘the Court had unrestricted jurisdiction to do whatever was necessary for the welfare of the child including the power to override the privilege’ but ‘the power should be exercised only rarely when the Court is satisfied after conducting a balancing exercise that it was necessary in the latter proceedings for the welfare of child’.


Then in 1994, The Court of Appeal[9]had an opportunity to decide between ‘these sharp conflicting opinions of Lords Thorpe and Douglas Brown’.


Childcare proceedings in respect of two girls initiated by the Local Authority in London were in progress under Sec. 31 of ‘The Act’. The Lower Court permitted the parties to disclose to the psychiatrists all the repots already prepared in the case and available with the court “with a further condition that any reports subsequently prepared by the psychiatrists shall also be disclosed to the Court and to all the parties”.


The mother opposed the imposition of this condition of disclosure[10]as these reports were found to contain some information unfavorable to her.


In unanimous decision, Lords Stephen Brown, Steyn and Kennedy declared that Lord Thorpe[11] was correct in his approach.


Lord Steyn held that ‘childcare proceedings were not ‘essentially adversarial’ in character and ‘legal profession privilege has to yield to the statutory provisions introduced to protect the welfare of the child’.


It was also held that “If parties were allowed to suppress unfavorable reports the object of The Act would be defeated”.[12]


Lord Stephen Brown also held that “the proceedings under The Act were adversarial as children cases fell into a special category where the Court is bound to undertake all the necessary steps to arrive at an appropriate result in the paramount interests of the welfare of the child.”




Lord Jauncey too held that “if a party, having obtained the leave of the Court were able to conceal, or withhold from the court, matters which were of importance and were relevant to the future of the child, there would be a risk that the welfare of the child would not be promoted under The Act. Since litigation privilege was essentially a creature of the adversarial proceedings it follows that, in care proceedings, it never arose, but was excluded by necessary implication from the terms and over purpose of The Act.”    


It is interesting to observe that in two more cases Lord Waller[13]and Lord Ward[14]held a similar opinion to that held by Lord Thorpe.


Finally in 1996 this most important issue was placed before House of Lords.[15]


BY a majority of 3 to 2 The House was in favor of lifting the privilege in Childcare proceedings on the basis of the followings facts and settled the state of the law.


The mother of a child of two drug addicts ‘had submitted that her female child had accidentally consumed some quantity of a dangerous drug, called as methadone, eventually becoming seriously ill but fortunately recovered from her illness.’


Thereafter the mother’s Attorney had instructed a Consulting Pathologist to prepare a report on the above incident on the basis of hospital records about the illness of the child.


This report raised serious doubts about the mother’s versions of this incident.


Meanwhile, the Police Department, who came to know about the above report, sought copies of the report by seeking permission to join them in the child-care proceedings under The C Act to make further investigation in some crimes.


The mother opposed disclosure of the report to the police authorities.


Allowing the appeal of the mother, Lord Nichollos, in his dissent,with Lord Mustill on his side, rejected that ‘The Act abrogated the litigation privilege and kept in tact the legal advise privilege’ after noting down the difference between these two types of privileges’[16] and also did not accept  this dichotomy in the two categories of the privilege.


Lord Nichollos in coming to his dissent had brought in the theory of ‘the procedural fairness’ in recognizing the right of a party to present his case  and to adduce evidence ‘without having any anxiety about losing the privilege as it was essential ingredient of a fair hearing’ even in family proceedings, whether adversarial or inquisitorial, under The Act’.



It is somewhat surprising to observe that Lord Nichollos, in spite of accepting that in matters of promoting the welfare of the child, the ‘paramount duty of a judge is to be pro-active but not merely reacting’ by ‘not confining himself to the evidence brought in by parties but can take all the steps necessary to find the true position,did not find it necessary‘to side step the ‘procedural fairness if it comes in conflict in protecting the interests of the child’.


To buttress his above opinion, Lord Nichollos invoked Article 6(1),[17] reading it with Article 8,[18] of The European Convention of Human Rights to hold that ‘in giving an opportunity to obtain legal advice in confidence with Attorney without any danger to the privilege as part of procedural fairness.”


His Lordship rejected the argument that the Act has impliedly abrogated the litigation privilege.[19]


Lord Nichollos declared that ‘in between the two public interests, the preservation of the legal privilege should be given more importance than the paramountcy of the welfare of the child’.[20]


In his opinion Lord Nichollos thought that Lord Johnson did not say that ‘the privilege had been completely abrogated but held that the Court had powers in appropriate cases to override the privilege attached to medical reports’.


Lords Nichollos and Mustill did not accept Lord Johnson’s ruling as ‘binding as in their opinion it was obiter’.[21]


Lord Nichollos firmly believed that the House of Lords in Derbyshire Magistrates Court, Ex p B.[22]rejected ‘the balancing approach in favor of lifting the privilege’.[23]




He also ‘emphatically rejected that the distinction’ between ‘legal advice privilege’ and ‘litigation privilege’ as in his opinion both are integral parts of a single privilege and it will be prejudiced if the legal advisor could not approach the witnesses in confidence before advising the client.


But the majority opinion,written by Lord Jauncey, with assent from Lords Lloyd[24]and Steyn,[25] agreed with The Court Appeal that ‘child care proceedings are non-adversarial and investigative’, by declaring decisively that ‘litigation privilege never arose in the first place rather than that the Court could override it. It is excluded by necessary implication for the overall main purpose of the Act’.[26]


Lord Jauncye also refused to support the minority opinion when he declared that ‘in child care proceedings the notion of fair trail between opposing parties is very less important’ as these are non-adversarial proceedings.[27]


Explaining the reasons and decision of Lord Taylor in Derbyshire case, Lord Jauncey[28]clearly pointed out that ‘the earlier House had no occasion to discuss in what circumstances absolute privilege will apply’. Therefore, he rejected that argument that the absolute nature of the privilege extends equally to all other forms of legal professional privilege and held that there is a distinction between cases where a solicitor could not without his client’s consent be compelled to express an opinion on factually or legal merits of the case and a case where ‘third party who has provided a report to  a client can be summoned to give evidence by other side and cannot decline to answer questions as to his factual finding or opinion’.[29]


The earlier Lord Scarman’s ruling[30]that ‘in exercising wardship jurisdiction the Court is truly a family court and its paramount concern is the welfare of its ward. It will, therefore, be sometimes be the duty of the court to look beyond the submissions of the parties is its endeavor to do what it judges to be necessary’ was quoted with approval by Lord Jauncey.




The dicta of trial judge Lord Ungoed-Thomas, in his decision inOfficial Solicitor V. K,[31]  which was later challenged in the Court of Appeal, that “it (wardship proceedings) is not based on the rights of parents and its primacy concern is not to ensure their rights but to ensure the welfare of the children…..” was accepted by Lord Devlin in the Court of Appeal and also, in turn, acceptable to Lord Jauncey.  


Therefore, the majority of The House of Lords rejected the mother’s argument and her appeal was dismissed.


There appears to be no relevant case law on this important issue coming under Sec.126 of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872.


The following two exceptions alone can be found in the section.


They are 1. Any such communication made in furtherance of any illegal purpose.’ 2. ‘Any fact observed by any Barrister, Pleader, Attorney or Vakil, in the course of his employment as such, showing that any crime or fraud has been committed since the commencement of his employment.’


If in future a live issue in child care and family proceedings comes before the Indian Courts, the judicial approach adopted by Lords Johnson, Thorpe, Jauncey, Lloyd and Steyn is always preferable.





[1] (3) QBD 356

[2] Essex County Council V. R  (1993) 4 All ER 702// (1994) Fam. 167

[3] at page 704

[4](1993) 4 All ER 59//(1993) Fam. 295

[5] Re A (minors-Disclosure of Materials) (1991) 2 FLR 473

[6] She was not in favor of disclosure as the reports had ‘some adverse remarks on her conduct in protecting the welfare of the children’.

[7] His Lordship pointed out that ‘though the welfare of a child is of paramount important in both wardship and child care proceedings the overriding of the privilege is not extendable to proceedings under The Act.

[8] Causton V. Mann Egerton (Johnson) Ltd 1974 1 All ER 453 at 460

[9]Oxfordshire County Council V. M    ( 1994)  2 All ER 269,  (1994) Fam 151

[10] Mr. Rippon, arguing for mother before Lord Douglas Brown, had opposed Lord Johnson’s ruling on 3 points. 1. Lord Johnson’s decision ‘was obiter’. 2. That decision was given in wardship proceedings which has no application in proceedings under The Act. 3. The present case was not ‘the appropriate case to override the privilege’ though the Court had jurisdiction.

[11]Also Ref. to the observations of the Great Lord Thorpe ‘in his address to the American Inns of Court Foundation published in (1993) Fam. Law 681

[12] However, the Court of Appeal made it clear that ‘the exception applies only to such third party reports and the privilege attaching to the communications between legal advisers and their clients in such cases remain unaffected by the decision’. 

[13] In Re DH ( a minor) (1994) 1 FLR 679

[14]Oxforshire County Council V. P (1995) 2 All ER 225

[15]Re L (A Minor) Police Investigation-Privilege (1996) 2 All ER 78 HL

[16]Legal Advice Privilege’ covers ‘communications between a client and his legal advisor and it is available whether or not proceedings are in existence or not. ‘Litigation Privilege’ has wider coverage of communications such as those between legal adviser and the witnesses. These are privileged only when proceedings are in existence and contemplated. ,-- at page 91.

[17] Art. 6(1) ‘The Right to a ‘fair and public hearing’ within a reasonable time by an ‘independent and impartial tribunal established by law’.

[18]The Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’ is the import of Art. 8 

[19] His Lordship held that ‘the main purpose of the privilege would be frustrated if the legal adviser could approach potential witnesses is confidence before advising his client’.

[20] At page 91

[21] Refer to the observations of Lord Thorpe, in comparison with a contrary opinion given by Douglas Brown, on Lord Johnson’s ruling.

[22] (1995) 4 All ER 530.This case was about a ‘claim for lifting the privilege on death of client but in the interest of an accused to make use of the privileged information in preparation for his defense’. 

[23] But it can be argued that the proceedings in Derbyshire case were not ‘child care proceedings with the competing claims of disclosure sought in the best interests of the child on one hand and the request for non-disclosure claimed by other parties’ and therefore ‘it is highly debatable whether the power to adopt balancing approach in matter of lifting the privilege is completely shot down’ by the House of Lords in all and every proceedings before the Court.

[24] p

[25] p

[26] P 86

[27] Id. at 85

[28] p 83

[29] Lord Denning declared that there is no property in the opinion of an expert witness in Harmony Shipping Co., SA V. Davis (1979) 2 All ER 177. Hitherto there was an opinion among Lawyers and Clients that whatever reports prepared on the suggestion of the Lawyer for the protection of his client is ‘the property of both of them’.   

[30]Re E (SA) (a minor) (1984) 1 All ER 289 at 290

[31]  (1963) 3 All ER 191at 210 In the same appeal, Lord Evershed, also said, that ‘the purpose of the enquiry was to make a decision about the future upbringing up of the infant, whereby the infant was in a special position distinct from that of the other parties.’

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