What did YOU do on European Lawyers Day?

In case you’re asked this embarrassing question during the coming Christmas party season, here is a briefing to help you bluff your way to a higher social status.

Just remember: it fell on 10 December, and its theme was mass governmental surveillance. The easiest answer is to say you watched the video put out by my organisation, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), featuring an interview with Edward Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

He said many interesting things, but here is an excerpt to help oil the small talk: ‘Edward Snowden is one of the world’s leading security technologists … It’s impossible to be sure that an adversary, like NSA with an 80 billion dollars a year budget and many other spy agencies around the world, have not found the way into our communications. But all I can do is follow his guidance about the safest and the most secure way for us to communicate … we use a program called ‘Tails’ that allows us to chat over encrypted channels - we have to be online at the same time in order to do that. It’s not the most efficient way to communicate - surveillance does in effect put a tax on lawyers’ time and resources in order to do this. And there will always have to be topics that we can’t discuss even in those most protected channels. Some that we discuss only face-to-face and then there are other topics that we won’t discuss face-to-face because of the surveillance environment that might exist there. So, the short answer is, that this is one of those instances, where the most ethical thing to do as lawyer is exactly what the client tells me to do.’

If you were in Edinburgh, you might have attended the European Lawyers Day lecture by Sir David Edward (former UK judge at the European Court of Justice) on lawyer-client confidentiality, hosted at the Faculty of Advocates with the participation of the other two UK barristers’ organisations. Or in Belfast you might have attended the event put on by the Law Society of Northern Ireland on ‘A Right to Privacy in a Digital Age’. If you live elsewhere, just say that you read with enthusiasm the historic statement put out by all six UK lawyers’ professional organisations, that culminated in the simple sentence that ‘the lawyer’s right and duty of confidentiality is entitled to special protection by the state’. (By the way, there were events all over Europe, and the new Commissioner for Justice, Vera Jourova, also published a video to coincide with the day.)

French lawyers held a mass demonstration on 10 December, but not in celebration of European Lawyers Day. 50,000 of them were protesting, under the rubric ‘Justice morte’, against the ‘loi Macron’. Among other things, their professional body says that the law’s proposal to permit third party capital to be invested in law firms (sounds familiar?) will lead to a loss of independence and to a conflict of interest between shareholders and lawyers.

Serbian lawyers meanwhile were on strike, having already been on strike for around three months, to protest (among other things) at the introduction of a law which gives part of their duties to notaries. On European Lawyers Day, representatives of the CCBE, International Bar Association and Union Internationale des Avocats met with the Serbian Ministry of Justice to try to get negotiations started again between the two sides.

And as if that wasn’t enough, if asked what you did on European Lawyers Day, you could say that you were waiting for the important judgment of the General Court (of the Court of Justice of the European Union) in the French pharmacists’ case, Ordre national des pharmaciens (ONP) and Others v Commission, Case T-90/11, which was published then. The ONP was found to have restricted competition by preventing the development of groups of laboratories, and by attempting to impose a minimum price on the French market in which they operate. ‘The ONP attempted to impede, by a variety of means, the participation by groups in the capital of laboratories with the aim of reducing the competitive threat that the development of groups of laboratories posed to the numerous small laboratories active on the market … by obstructing the economic activities of professionals operating on the market or by preventing external capital from investing in the market, the ONP limited or controlled production, technical development and investment.’ For these, and other, activities, the ONP was fined a whopping 4.75 million euros.

I notice that, after mass government surveillance, the topic of external capital in professional firms wormed its way in to become the second theme of 10 December.