Euro Bars stand firm on MDPs

THE DUTCH Bar is to receive the backing of Europe’s combined Bar associations in its battle with Price Waterhouse over the issue of multidisciplinary partnerships.

Price Waterhouse has made a complaint to the European Commission that Dutch Bar rules which prohibit it from employing lawyers breach European competition law.

The commission’s decision on the case will determine the spread of multidisciplinary practices (MDPs) throughout Europe.

Now the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE), which is firmly against MDPs, has decided to intervene in the case.

Jonathan Goldsmith, part of the UK delegation to the CCBE’s plenary session, which met in Madrid on 14 June, said: “There was unanimous support for backing the Dutch Bar. We will instruct a lawyer to intervene in proceedings in the Netherlands on behalf of all European countries in support of the Dutch Bar, to say that each Bar should be able to regulate its own practice and make its own rules as to whether MDPs are allowed or not.”

The CCBE will instruct a lawyer in the next few days to make its case to the European Commission.

In a separate move, International Bar Association President J Ross Harper is this week inviting members – including the president of the Dutch Bar – to form an anti-MDP committee that would present evidence against MDPs to the World Trade Organisation.

The WTO, the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), is currently considering ways to liberalise the accountancy profession, making it easier for accountants from one country to work in another.

The IBA is also opposed to MDPs and keen to maintain the independence of lawyers.

The CCBE resolved not to permit MDPs two years ago, calling them “professionals’ supermarkets” which would erode lawyers’ independence and lead to unhealthy monopolies on the provision of legal and economical advice.