ECJ criticises Italian minimum fee system

ITALIAN clients wanting to secure cheap foreign legal services for fees below the minimum rates set by Italy’s government are being illegally denied their rights under EU law, a European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general has concluded.

The advocate general, Miguel Poiares Maduro, said: “The minimum fees… constitute a restriction on the freedom to provide services because they neutralise the competitive advantage of lawyers established outside Italy.”

The right to provide services across all member states has long been enshrined in EU treaties, and Poiares Maduro found that this “restriction is not justified by an overriding reason in the public interest”.

In most cases, the full ECJ approves its advocate generals’ arguments, so Italy may face a reformation of its system. It is ruling on a Milan case where a client is challenging a lawyer’s fees.

In Italy, minimum and maximum rates are fixed by legislation, with scales drawn up every two years by the national bar council and then approved by the justice minister.