Dutch Bar Keeps MDP Ban

Defense Counsel Journal, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Dutch Bar Keeps MDP Ban


The European Court of Justice has issued two judgments of widespread importance to European Union lawyers and their organizations.

In Wonters v. Algemene Raad van de Nederlandse Order van Advocaten, Case C-309/99, decided February 19, it held that despite inherent competition-restrictive elements, a regulation of the Bar of the Netherlands effectively banning lawyers from joining a multidisciplinary practice with accountants does not infringe the competition, right of establishment and freedom to provide services provisions of Article 85 (now Article 81) of the Treaty Establishing the European Community. The Dutch bar, the court stated, "could reasonably have considered" that the MDP ban was "necessary for the proper practice of the legal profession, as organized in the member state concerned."

The case was instituted by J.C.J. Wonders and J.W. Savelbergh. Wonders, a member of the Amsterdam bar, became a partner in Arthur Andersen & Co. Belastingadviseurs (tax consultants) in 1991. Three years later he wanted to join the Rotterdam bar and practice under the name of "Arthur Andersen & Co., Advocaten en Belastingadviseurs." Savelbergh, also a member of the Amsterdam bar wanted to become a partner of Price Waterhouse Belastingadviseurs BV, a subsidiary of Price Waterhouse, which includes both tax consultants and accountants.

Both applications were turned down by the Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten (Bar of the Netherlands) on the ground that the bar's Samenwerkingsverordening 1993 (Regulation on Joint Professional Activity 1993) barred lawyers from practicing law in partnership with accountants. The 1993 regulation, which was adopted in accordance with Dutch law--the Advocatenwet (the Law on the Bar)--did not disturb the previously granted right of lawyers to form partnership with notaries, tax consultants and patent agents. Accountants, however, are mentioned as an example of a professional category with which lawyers are not authorized to enter into partnership.

The lower courts in the Netherlands refused to overturn the bar's decisions adverse to Wonders and Savelbergh, but the court of last instance, the Raad van State (Netherlands Council of State), referred the issues to the European Court of Justice. …

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