Greece: Attorney – Client Privilege In The Global Context: Practical Guidance For In-House Counsel

Last Updated: 9 November 2018
Article by Katerina Christodoulou

General Comments Under Greek Law

The attorney-client privilege is a fundamental principle in Greek legislation and it is protected by a number of legal provisions. It is protected by the Greek Constitution, the Attorney's Code of Conduct, the Code of Civil Procedure, as well as the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. The privilege derives from a special relationship of trust between the client and the lawyer and it survives the termination of the attorney-client relationship as well as the client's death.

Statutory provisions

The basic provisions dealing with the protection of the attorney-client privilege are the following:

  • Attorney's Code of Conduct: Under article 5 of the Attorney's Code, a lawyer, during the performance of his duties, must keep confidential whatever information has been entrusted to him by the client or whatever comes to his knowledge in the course of the practice of the profession of lawyer. Also, according to article 38 of the same Code, lawyers should keep in confidence anything entrusted to them by their clients at the time of their engagement as well as in the course of the execution of their clients' mandate or while dealing with their clients' cases. Furthermore, article 39 prohibits the search and seizure of documents in a lawyer's possession and also prohibits the lawyer from testifying in court about information his client entrusted to him regardless of whether the attorney-client relationship has been terminated.
  • Code of Civil Procedure: In Civil Procedure rules, the attorney-client privilege plays an important role in the non-disclosure of documents requested by a party in the course of a litigation. All persons who have an ex lege obligation to keep professional secrets are excluded from the duty to testify about the facts that were entrusted to them or they became aware of during the exercise of their profession relating to those communications having a duty of confidentiality. In this context, the attorney-client privilege under Greek law only covers communications, legal advice and internal legal reports exchanged between the lawyer (as well as his/her associates and assistants) and the client, and it does not extend to the correspondence or exchanges of information between the client's lawyer or to the client itself with a third party, such as, for example, insurers.

    Furthermore, Article 401 of CPC provides that "lawyers [and] their assistants and persons who advise litigant parties" have "the right to refuse to be examined, when called as witnesses" in relation to "facts that they have acquired knowledge of during the course of their profession". Therefore, in case documents or information is privileged, it cannot be disclosed to the other party of litigation proceedings or to the Court because the main purpose of the Greek legislation is to protect the relationship of trust which is inherent between certain service providers or professionals and the persons who request their help and their special services.
  • Criminal Code: The Criminal Code states that lawyers to whom confidential information is entrusted due to their profession are punished with imprisonment or financial penalties payment should they disclose confidential information entrusted to them or that came to their knowledge by reason of their profession.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure: The attorney-client privilege applies both to civil and criminal cases. Lawyers cannot testify about information their clients entrusted to them and this prohibition exists even if the client who entrusted such information allowed the lawyer to disclose such information to the court. It rests with the lawyer's judgment, however, if he will testify about facts he became aware of during the exercise of his duties.

Scope of protection and nature of communication

As mentioned above, the attorney-client privilege derives from the special relationship of trust between the attorney and the client. In general, it has a wide and broad scope of protection, as it covers all aspects of communications between the lawyer and the client regarding their professional relationship. Therefore, the provision of information and any advice should take place only in case a professional relationship between the two parties (a client and a lawyer) is previously created and the privilege only covers information acquired by the lawyer as professional. So, the professional capacity of the lawyer and a professional relationship is required.

In-house counsel and the attorney-client privilege

The legal professional privilege protection applies equally to the communications with in-house counsel although there is no specific legislation on the matter. This statement is supported by the fact that the Attorney's Code of Conduct does not distinguish between in-house counsel and independent lawyers (external lawyers). Thus all communications held within the scope of the professional relationship of attorney-client are regarded as privileged. However, that in case of in-house counsel attorney-client privilege protection applies only to the extent the communication with the company is covered by the privilege, i.e. constitutes provision of legal services (for example, the privilege does not cover cases where the attorney may participate on administrative decisions, or acts in another capacity).

Waiver and limitations of the attorney-client privilege

The attorney-client privilege is in general in favor of the party who entrusts information to his lawyer, meaning in favor of the client. Because of this, Greek Courts often state that only the client can raise an objection to the attorney's testimony in court, and no objection can be raised by the other litigant. As a result of the above, waiver of the privilege can be made by the client's consent.

Regarding the limits of the attorney-client privilege, the privilege is subject, despite its broad power, to certain limitations set by legislation. Any exceptions to the rule of privilege are specifically described by provisions of law. One important limit is set out by anti-money laundering legislation, which provides the provision of legal services is subject to the protection of the attorney-client privilege unless the lawyer himself participates in money-laundering transactions or his legal advice is provided to the client with the aim of executing such crimes.

Originally published by Ally Law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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