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A privilege—etymologically "private law" or law relating to a specific individual—is a special entitlement or immunity granted by a government or other authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. A privilege can be revoked in some cases. In modern democracies, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from birth.

Under common law, privilege is a term describing a number of rules excluding evidence that would be adverse to a fundamental principle or relationship if it were disclosed.[1] The most common form is Solicitor-client privilege (attorney-client privilege under US law and client legal privilege in Australia). This protects confidential communications between a client and his legal adviser for the dominant purpose of legal advice.[2] The rationale is that clients ought to be able to communicate freely with their lawyers, in order to facilitate the proper functioning of the legal system. Other common forms include privilege against self incrimination (in other proceedings), without prejudice privilege (protecting communications made in the course of negotiations to settle a legal dispute), public interest privilege (formerly Crown privilege, protecting documents necessary for the proper functioning of government), marital privilege and medical professional privilege. Many other miscellaneous privileges also exist. For example, the old common law privilege to title deeds may still exist, though of little relevance today.[3]

In a broader sense, 'privilege' can refer to special powers or 'de facto' immunities held as a consequence of political power or wealth. Privilege of this sort may be transmitted by birth into a privileged class or achieved through individual actions. Compare elite.

One of the objectives of the French Revolution was the abolition of privilege. This meant the removal of separate laws for different social classes (nobility, clergy and ordinary people), instead subjecting everyone to the same common law. Privileges were abolished by the National Constituent Assembly on August 4, 1789.

See also

Look up privilege in Wiktionary.


  1. Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary
  2. Esso Australia Resources Limited v The Commissioners of Taxation (1999) 201 CLR 49;168 ALR 123
  3. Suzanna McNichol, The Law of Privilege (1st ed, 1992)
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