(CN) – Europe’s top court dismissed a challenge to the practice of excluding in-house counsel from attorney-client privilege.
During an investigation into a plastics additives cartel, authorities searching a business in the United Kingdom copied two emails between a manager and the legal department of Akzo Nobel Chemicals and Akcros Chemicals.
The chemical companies challenged the European Commission’s use of the emails, claiming it violated attorney-client privilege.
After the General Court dismissed the proceeding, the chemical companies appealed to the Court of Justice, the highest legal body for the European Union.
In-house lawyers are by the nature of their positions compelled to pursue their employers’ economic interests, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice pointed out. Employment relationships tie lawyers’ interests to those of the companies for which they work, so attorney-client privilege can’t extend to in-house lawyers, the court ruled.
This doesn’t violate the principle of equal treatment, according to the court, because in-house lawyers are in a fundamentally different position from independent lawyers.
The court also noted that among the 27 member states of the European Union, there’s no trend toward expanding attorney-client privilege. Thus, existing case law should continue to apply, the court said.
The Court of Justice upheld the lower court’s dismissal order, as Advocate General Kokott advised the court to do in May.