Pennsylvania Evidentiary Privileges

The Supreme Court has admonished that evidentiary privileges are held in disfavor and may be applied only for limited purposes under closely circumscribed conditions. See Commonwealth v. Stewart, 547 Pa. 277, 282, 690 A.2d 195, 197 (1997) (affirming trial court's refusal to quash subpoena directing production of records of Roman Catholic Diocese where subject matter of records was not within the scope of the statutory clergy-communicant privilege). 'Exceptions to the demand for every man's evidence are not lightly created nor expansively construed, for they are in derogation of the search for truth.' Hutchison v. Luddy, 414 Pa. Super. 138, 146, 606 A.2d 905, 908 (1992) (quoting Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 175, 60 L. Ed. 2d 115, 99 S. Ct. 1635, (1979)). Thus courts should accept testimonial privileges 'only to the very limited extent that permitting a refusal to testify or excluding relevant evidence has a public good transcending the normally predominant principle of utilizing all rational means for ascertaining the truth.' In re Grand Jury Investigation, 918 F.2d 374, 383 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Trammel v. United States, 445 U.S. 40, 46, 63 L. Ed. 2d 186, 100 S. Ct. 906 (1980)). Stewart, 547 Pa. at 282, 690 A.2d at 197. Consequently, though our standard of review of matters of law is plenary, we must construe narrowly the provisions of any privilege that operates to hamper a party's access to information potentially admissible in court. Id. Accordingly, we must scrutinize the circumstances under which the proponent of an evidentiary privilege wishes to apply the privilege to ascertain whether the information sought to be protected falls within the scope of the enabling legislation.