Top EU Court Upholds Local-Help Rule for Visiting Lawyers

A German farmer living in Ireland was told his German-barred lawyer couldn’t represent him in Irish courts because she wasn’t barred there. 

Cows grazing in Tubbercurry, County Sligo, Ireland. (Barbara Leonard photo, special to Courthouse News)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union’s high court held on Wednesday that EU law doesn’t preclude Ireland from requiring foreign lawyers to work with local counsel.

Finding that the requirement doesn’t create an undue burden on litigants or violate the EU’s free movement of goods and services, the European Court of Justice ruled against Volkmar Klohn, an organic farmer living in Tubbercurry, County Sligo.

After a local board upheld planning permission in 2006 for the construction of a dead animal processing plant near his farm, Klohn brought a series of unsuccessful appeals ultimately ending in defeat before the Irish High Court.

The An Bord Pleanála, a quasi-judicial body that hears appeals to planning decisions in Ireland, later sent Klohn a bill for its legal costs to the tune of €86,000 ($100,000). 

Klohn’s challenge of the bill eventually reached the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice, which found in 2018 that the cost of contesting environmental impact studies should not be prohibitively expensive. 
The case then returned to the Irish high court for a determination as to whether the amount was prohibitive under the Environmental Impact Assessment, a 1985 EU regulation.

Klohn represented himself in the original hearing, but for the second hearing, Klohn, a German native, wanted to be represented by a German lawyer, Barbara Ohlig. Under Irish law, visiting lawyers must be assisted by local counsel, and the court required Klohn to hire an Irish lawyer to assist Ohlig. He contested that requirement, which landed back at the Court of Justice. 

An Bord Pleanála was joined in this appeal by both The General Council of the Bar of Ireland, The Law Society of Ireland and the Irish Attorney General in the case. 

“The purpose of that obligation is to provide the lawyer providing services with the support necessary to work within a judicial system different from that in which he or she usually practices, and to provide the judicial authority in question with an assurance that that lawyer does indeed have that support and that he or she is therefore in a position fully to observe the applicable procedural and ethical rules,” the First Chamber wrote today.

The five-judge panel referred to an earlier opinion from the court’s advocate general Priit Pikamäe, whose nonbinding recommendation advised that the requirement “does not appear that freedom to provide services is harmed more than is necessary to attain the public interest objectives sought.” Under EU law, products and services should move across the internal market seamlessly. 

The court noted that such requirements should not stipulate how the lawyers should divide up responsibilities. “After all, it is for the visiting lawyer and for the lawyer authorized to practice before the Irish court in question to define the precise role each of them is to play, the role of the latter consisting rather in being designated as the lawyer assisting the visiting lawyer,” the judges found. 

The 15-year-old legal dispute now returns again to Ireland for the national court to rule whether the original legal bill was prohibitive. 

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