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In the legal system, attorneys play a key role in ensuring fairness and protecting the rights of individuals. One of the fundamental principles that ensures the integrity of the legal profession is the Attorney - Client confidentiality principle. This principle guarantees the confidentiality of information that clients share with their lawyers, to create a safe environment for honest communication and trust between attorney and client.

Attorney confidentiality is the basis for building trust between attorney and their clients. To solve their legal problem, Clients are often forced to share sensitive information with their attorney, such as confidential business information or private information about their lives. Without those assurances of confidentiality, clients would be more cautious about sharing this information, which could seriously impede or even obstruct the legal process and the provision of legal aid. For this very reason, in addition to the basic obligation of the lawyer arising from the legal services contract which is to take care of the rights and interests of the client as a user of the legal service, the attorney also has one of the special obligations imposed on him, to protect the information given to him as confidential.

The legal foundations of Attorney - Client confidentiality vary around the world, but the principle is present in many legal systems. In Croatia, Attorney – Client confidentiality is regulated by the Attorneys Act (Official Gazette 09/94, 117/08, 50/09, 75/09, 18/11, 126/21) which in Article 16 states that attorney is obliged to keep confidential all facts and information he learns during his legal activity. Confidentiality refers to any information that the attorney learns or receives from his client, as well as everything that became known during the performance of legal work. This legal obligation constitutes the basic rule of the Attorney – client confidentiality principle in Croatia.

In the same way, the Code of professional ethics of Attorneys ("Official Gazette" No. 64/2007, 72/2008, 64/2018, 52/2021, 83/2021, 81/2022, hereinafter: the Code) establishes the principles and the rules of conduct in order to preserve the dignity and reputation of the legal profession. Attorneys are obliged to adhere to those rules when performing their duties, and the said regulation also narrowly defines the concept of Attorney - Client confidentiality. Thus, in the second chapter, which is devoted exclusively to the Attorney – client confidentiality, it is stipulated that the lawyer is obliged to keep as a secret everything that he learned as confidential from his client or in another way during the provision of legal assistance, especially during representation or defense. He must conscientiously evaluate what information the Client wants to be kept as confidential, which includes all forms of information - all files, audio, computer, image and similar records and deposits of the parties that are in the attorney's office.

At the same time, the Attorney is obliged to ensure that his employees (other lawyers, trainee lawyers, administrative staff, and others) also keep this information as confidential. For this reason, in the employment contract with his employees, the Attorney is obliged to expressly state that the violation of the Attorney – Client confidentiality is a reason for the termination of the employment on grounds of serious violation of work duties.

Information that the attorney learned confidentially while providing legal assistance to a legal entity or a public body, may not be used to their detriment in any case or procedure. Also, attorneys may not use such knowledge to the detriment of one or more interested members of that legal entity or body, except in providing legal assistance to that legal entity or body against those members.

Furthermore, attorney is obliged to protect the Attorney – Client confidentiality under the threat of disciplinary liability during the provision of legal assistance, but also after that if its disclosure could harm the Client.

To preserve the Attorney – Client confidentiality, the attorney must not give any information about the cases entrusted to him, even after the termination of the Attorney – Client relationship and/or the Legal services agreement.

Disclosing of the Client’s confidential information is only permitted if the Client unequivocally allows the Attorney to do so, if it is necessary for the defense of the Attorney in criminal or disciplinary proceedings or for the protection of his rights and interests in proceedings in which the attorney is the litigant regarding the representation of the Client, or if it is necessary to justify his decision to terminate the legal services contract or representation. If the attorney represents several clients in the same legal matter, disclosure of the Client’s confidential information is permitted if all parties give the Attorney unequivocal permission to do so.

The lawyer's duty of confidentiality is a fundamental obligation that a lawyer cannot and must not renounce. It must always be respected and honored. Every communication between a client and a lawyer is subject to attorney-client privilege, even if it does not pertain to any pending litigation or other ongoing proceedings, or even actions that may only be contemplated. It encompasses everything a person says and confides in the lawyer, as well as everything the lawyer says and advises the person, that is, the client. Undoubtedly, it is in the interest of the entire community and the rule of law that a lawyer provides sound and comprehensive advice based on all the facts and the whole truth, accurate, in accordance with the law, and reasonable according to their understanding. A person who seeks or needs legal advice given in complete confidence and protection must have the right to it, regardless of whether they might waive that right, and although such confidence and protection may not be as important to someone else. (...) If this privilege of attorney-client privilege did not exist, everyone would be left to their own devices in seeking justice and deprived of professional assistance. No one would dare to seek advice from legally trained individuals or fully confide in their lawyer. Therefore, attorney-client privilege allows for unhindered and confidential confidences and the competent work of a lawyer in favor of their client. Attorney-client privilege does not exist to conceal unlawful conduct, nor can it do so. (Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia, nr U-I/546/2013 from December 18, 2018)

In conclusion, Attorney – Client confidentiality is deeply rooted and common in the legal profession because it contributes to the justice system in several ways. When clients know that their information will be kept confidential, they are more willing to discuss their concerns openly with their legal representative. This allows attorneys to provide legal assistance of higher quality and helps them to understand all aspects of the case. Maintaining high standards of confidentiality and ethical behavior contributes to the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the legal system.

Through Attorney’s privilege, attorney’s position as independent advisor to their clients, and protector of the rights and freedoms of individuals is strengthened. This principle is of fundamental importance in the legal profession because it contributes to fairness of the procedure, mutual trust, and integrity of the profession. The legal framework that regulates Attorney – Client confidentiality ensures its application, with exceptions that have specific general or professional interests in mind. By maintaining confidentiality, attorneys can provide quality legal assistance to their clients, explore all options, and ensure that justice is served.