ECJ rejects claims that Italian compulsory fee scale is illegal

ECJ justices had to consider whether the restriction of charges paid to lawyers broke EU regulations designed to prevent the formation of cartels and other restrictive practices. As a result, the fact that scales must be based on recommendations from the National Council of the Bar came under scrutiny.
If judges had decided that it was the professional association that made the key decisions on fees, they may have decided that competition laws had been flouted. But the court focused instead on the duty of Italy's minister for justice to approve, amend or reject a draft fee table from the national council.
In its judgment, the ECJ held that “the Italian state has not waived its power of review or decision in respect of the tariff(s)”, which as a result “retains the character of legislation and [as] there is no delegation to private economic operators”, competition law does not apply and is not therefore broken.
The issue had been referred to the ECJ after a dispute over the legal costs charged to one Manuele Arduino, a motorist convicted of road traffic offences. Because the awarded costs did not match the scale of fees, the Italian Court of Cassation ruled them out of order, sparking the dispute over European law.
Under Italy's system, minimum and maximum fee limits are fixed for members of the bar. They are initially proposed by the Bar Council, (the Consiglio Nazionale Forense), and must be approved by the minister for justice after consulting the government's Interminist-erial Committee on Prices.