The European Court of Justice has confirmed the decision by Advocate General Julian Kokott that in-house counsels have no right to professional legal privilege in cartel investigations carried out by the European Commission.
In a dispute stretching back to February 2003 when officials raided the Manchester offices of Akzo Nobel confiscating documents which Akzo Nobel contended were legal privileged communications between employees and its in-house counsel.
There was significant support across the European Union for Akzo Nobel in the shape of such organisations as the European Company Lawyers Association, American Corporate Counsel Association (ACCA) and the International Bar Association.
The CBI director for Competitive Markets, Matthew Fell said " We are very disappointed that the Court has not taken the opportunity to bring the 30 year old case law up to date and recognise the fundamental role that in-house lawyers play in competition law compliance".
The Law Society reaction voiced by Chief Executive Desmond Hudson "In-house lawyers are the front-line guarantor of compliance. It is sad that while the EU strives to legislate for higher standards of corporate governance and risk management, the decision of the Court in effect rejects this key tool in achieving this aim"
© Tanda Migliorini & Associates LLP 2011