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From the Brussels office

17 May 10

Recent EU developments on in-house lawyers; European Court of Human Rights; criminal law

In-house lawyers: status quo prevails

On 29 April, Advocate General Kokott handed down her opinion in the case of Akzo Nobel Chemicals v Commission (C-550/07). The case concerns legal advice given by lawyers working in-house in companies and whether this is protected by legal professional privilege in the context of EU antitrust investigations. In 2007, the Court of First Instance rejected the argument that such advice should receive this protection. The Advocate General advised the court to dismiss the appeal, consistent with EU case law dating back to the early 1980s. The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice, which is not bound to follow the opinion of the Advocate General, is expected to rule in the coming months.

A more streamlined ECtHR

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) faces a more streamlined future with the entry into force of Protocol 14. This was agreed in 2004 as an addition to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. Due to unforeseen difficulties with ratification, especially in Russia, it has taken almost six years to go from paper to reality. Some basic functions came into force on 1 June 2009 and the remaining aspects will be effective from 1 June 2010. The main aim of the Protocol is to reduce waiting times of applicants bringing claims to the ECtHR. This is achieved in three ways. The first is the introduction of a single judge to decide on the admissibility of applications, assisted by a non-judicial rapporteur. Secondly, there will be a more effective "filtering" of cases, with committees of three judges deciding on routine cases which require no further deliberation. Lastly, there is the possibility of reducing chambers of judges from seven to five, although this is to be finalised after the introduction of Protocol 14. These measures aim to increase the speed and output of the ECtHR, focusing it on the most important and urgent cases as quickly as possible.

UK signs up to criminal law instruments

On 8 April the European Parliament supported action taken by the Commission to improve fair trial rights in criminal proceedings, in this instance interpretation and translation. The Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee overwhelmingly endorsed the proposal put forward by member states, but integrated points taken from a more recent Commission proposal, including strengthened entitlement to legal advice. Parliament is scheduled to vote on 14 June. The UK Government has chosen to opt in to this initiative and be bound by its provisions.

It has also exercised the right to opt in to the proposed directive on the European Protection Order. This proposal is aimed primarily at victims of domestic violence who have already obtained a protection measure in one country and need it to be recognised in another.


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