While both the Shari’a law (‘Islamic Religious Law’) and the French civil law system are the main tenets of Lebanon’s legal system, much of Lebanon’s legislation is often derived from legal concepts inherent in the Ottoman Empire.
Lebanon constitutes a parliamentary democracy by means of its Constitution, which was amended on 21 September 1990. The President is the Head of the State of Lebanon and is responsible for promulgating the legislation adopted by the Parliament of Lebanon. The Lebanese Prime Minister, on the other hand, oversees the Executive Branch and chairs the Cabinet of Ministers, which is responsible for executing Lebanon’s executive functions.
The tripartite legal system in Lebanon is that of civil courts, commercial courts and criminal courts. The Final Court of Appeal is the Court of Cassation of Lebanon, reserved for the hearing of cases of high importance or special significance.
The principles of legal professional privilege and “without prejudice” communications do not apply per se in many civil law jurisdictions in the area and the parties have the right to use any document that could help their cause in civil litigation. That is the position in Lebanon, the constitution of which includes no explicit clause relating to legal professional privilege.
Without the consent of the client, legal professional privilege prevents all correspondence between professional legal advisers and their clients from being released. The right is for the good of the customer only, and not the lawyer. The aim of this legal principle is to preserve one’s access to the justice system by ensuring that individuals can report to their legal advisers all relevant information without the possibility that this disclosure will have negative consequences or prejudice them in the future.
If they can show the documents or knowledge, a lawyer ceases to be bound by the requirements of legal professional privilege protection:
At the time it was revealed to the prosecutor, it was in the public domain;
Entered the public domain through no fault of the lawyer after the time it was revealed to the lawyer; or
At the time it was revealed to the lawyer, demonstrated by contemporary documents, it was free of any duty of trust in the hands of the lawyer.
A lawyer may reveal such documents/information that would otherwise be covered by the right of the lawyer-client to the degree that such disclosure is needed by a valid order of a court or other government entity having jurisdiction, given that the lawyer provides the client with fair prior written notice of such disclosure and makes a reasonable effort to obtain a protective order to prevent such disclosure from being disclosed.
There are no express privilege rules in Lebanon, as is the case with most civil law jurisdictions in the Middle East, and parties can, in principle, adduce in testimony any document that can support their position. Instead, Lebanon’s definition of legal professional privilege is restricted only to the professional relationship between a lawyer and his client, by the duty of the lawyer to keep all correspondence between the lawyer and his client private.
The same privilege rights do not tend to extend to in-house legal counsel representing the company’s officers, directors or staff, since they are not independent of the client. It is, however, possible to enter into a confidentiality arrangement between the employer and the employed in-house legal counsel to protect this information.