In a dispute between the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and
a person being investigated by the ACC, the High Court of Australia
has unexpectedly ruled that "spousal privilege" no longer
exists at common law. This may have implications for business in
The basis of the common law concept of spousal privilege is that
a spouse cannot be compelled to give evidence that incriminates
Ewan Stoddart was a self-employed accountant whose business
procedures were the subject of investigations by the ACC. At the
time of the investigation, the Defendant's wife, Louise,
provided secretarial and administrative assistance in the
The ACC commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against Mr
Stoddart, and subpoenaed Louise to give evidence against him as to
his business practices. Louise claimed that she was not required to
give evidence due to her marriage to the Defendant on the basis of
The focus of the case in the Federal Court of Australia had been
on whether the particular terms of the Australian Crime
Commission Act 2002 abrogated privilege. However, when this
point went on appeal, the High Court of Australia held that this
was irrelevant as spousal privilege no longer exists.
This judgment now serves as an authoritative statement rebutting
the previously held belief in the concept of spousal privilege. It
is also a caution to family-run businesses that the law can look
behind marriage during regulatory investigations into the conduct
of a business.
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