Federal Court Rejects Optus’ Legal Privilege Claim: Understanding When Privilege Applies to Forensic Investigation Reports

In a landmark decision, the Federal Court has dismissed a claim by telecommunications giant Optus to assert legal privilege over forensic investigation reports. This ruling illuminates the often-misunderstood concept of legal privilege, especially as it pertains to forensic investigations. So, when does privilege apply?

The Nature of Legal Privilege

Legal privilege, or attorney-client privilege, is a legal right that protects communications between a professional legal adviser and their client. Its primary purpose is to keep communications confidential, encouraging full and frank discussion between the legal adviser and the client without fear of exposure.

The Case of Optus

Optus sought to claim legal privilege over reports produced during a forensic investigation, arguing that these were prepared with the anticipation of litigation and for the dominant purpose of providing legal advice. However, the Federal Court saw it differently.

The Court’s Rationale

The court emphasized that for privilege to apply, the primary purpose of the document must be for seeking or giving legal advice or use in litigation. While forensic reports can be part of the preparation for litigation, they are often created for various purposes, including compliance with regulatory requirements or for internal review.

The Implications of the Ruling

The ruling sends a clear message: not all documents prepared in the context of an investigation are protected by privilege. Companies must be precise in establishing the purpose of such reports and should assume they could become public unless they can clearly demonstrate their privileged nature.

Best Practices Going Forward

To better ensure privilege applies:

  1. Clear Intent: Clearly articulate the legal purpose of the investigation from the outset.
  2. Engage Legal Counsel: Involve legal counsel early and have them direct the investigation.
  3. Maintain Confidentiality: Limit dissemination of the report and label documents appropriately.


The Federal Court’s decision serves as a crucial reminder that legal privilege is not a catch-all shield for sensitive information. Businesses and legal professionals alike must be diligent in how they conduct investigations and prepare reports if they intend to rely on the protections of legal privilege.

Hello! I am Nazifa Rahman-Ahmed

Nazifa, with 8+ years in law, started in criminal motor defense, handling Section 172 prosecutions, careless driving, and related offenses.