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Privilege for accountants’ tax advice in Australia - Brave new world, or house of straw?


The common law has long recognized that legitimate communications between lawyers and their clients need to be protected from disclosure, in order to ensure that clients are candid with their legal advisers (this is the common law doctrine of “legal professional privilege”). This candour is seen as having a “special significance because it is part of the functioning of the law itself” (Baker v Campbell per Dawson J) and is entrenched for Australian federal courts by the Evidence Act [1995] Cth. In recent times, other professions (including accountants) and industries have sought to claim a similar protection, but have been firmly rebuffed by Australian courts. However, foreign legislatures have proved more accommodating – the United States has, for example, long recognized the accounting “work product” doctrine and similar protection is provided by s 20B of the UK Taxes Management Act 1970.

Author profiles

Prof Robin Woellner CTA
Robin is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Law, Business and the Creative Arts, at James Cook University. Robin was the Foundation Dean of the College of Law and Business in the University of Western Sydney and was previously the Foundation Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur. Robin has taught and has carried out significant research on tax administration, and in particular ATO tax audit practice, tax compliance costs, legal professional privilege and related areas. He is the senior author of a leading tax textbook, Australian Tax Law, as well as a number of other books, and has written over 100 articles, notes and reports on taxation, company, commercial and health law. - Current at 01 July 2010
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Andrew is an Associate Professor of Taxation Law at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Current at 1 August 2012
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