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Duty of discretion, discretion and professional secrecy in the public service

Verified 04 February 2020 - Directorate for Legal and Administrative Information (Prime Minister)

Staff members and contract staff shall be subject to the duty of reserve. This obligation relates to the manner in which opinions are expressed and not to their content. Every public official shall also be subject to an obligation of professional discretion concerning the functioning of his administration. Certain officials shall be bound by professional secrecy in respect of information they have at their disposal in the course of their duties concerning users.

All public officials must exercise restraint and restraint in the written and oral expression of their personal opinions.

This obligation does not concern the content of opinions (freedom of opinion is granted to public officials), but their mode of expression.

The reserve obligation applies during and outside the service period.

Failure to comply with the duty to reserve shall be assessed by the hierarchical authority on a case-by-case basis.

This duty applies more or less strictly according to the following criteria:

  • The place in the hierarchy, with the expression of senior officials being judged more severely
  • The circumstances in which an agent has spoken, with a trade union official acting within the scope of his mandate enjoying more freedom
  • Advertising of the speech, if the agent speaks in a local newspaper or in a major national media
  • Forms of expression, whether or not the agent used offensive or offensive terms

This obligation also requires public officials to avoid in all circumstances behavior that could undermine the consideration of the public service by users.


this obligation shall continue to apply to staff on standby or suspended from their duties.

A public official shall not disclose information relating to the activity, duties and functioning of his administration.

The obligation of discretion relates to facts, information or documents which cannot be disclosed to users of whom the staff member has knowledge in the performance or in the course of his duties.

The obligation is particularly strong for certain categories of agents: for example, the military or the judiciary.

This obligation applies not only to citizens, but also to public officials, to colleagues who do not, by virtue of their duties, have knowledge of the information in question.

Union leaders remain subject to this obligation.

This obligation may be waived only by decision of the hierarchical authority.

In addition to the obligation of professional discretion, certain public officials are bound by their duties to professional secrecy.

This obligation of secrecy applies to information which the staff member has knowledge of in the course of his duties relating to the health, behavior, family situation of a person, etc. It aims to protect the material and moral interests of individuals.

Professional secrecy may be waived upon authorization of the person concerned by the information.

The waiver of professional secrecy shall be required to ensure:

  • protection of persons (e.g. disclosure of abuse),
  • preserving public health (e.g. revelation of diseases requiring surveillance),
  • the preservation of public order (denunciation of crimes or offenses) and the proper conduct of judicial proceedings (e.g. testimony in court).

In addition, jurisdictions must respond to tax authorities' requests for information.

Professional secrecy shall not prevent the communication of documents to the Advocate.. Exceptions: on matters of secrecy concerning national defense, State security or foreign policy.

The disclosure of professional secrets outside of authorized cases is punishable by 1 year's imprisonment and €15,000 fine.