back to article In-house lawyers have no right to secrecy in EU competition cases, rules ECJ

In-house lawyers at companies being investigated for competition law offences do not enjoy the same privacy rights for communications with their companies as lawyers from external firms, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said. The ECJ has ruled that in-house lawyers are in danger of suffering a conflict of interest …


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  1. Evil Auditor Silver badge


    "They cannot be allowed the same legal professional privilege (LPP) as external lawyers because they are not independent"

    ECJ, please tell me, how independent is an external lawyer which I pay? The only difference being pay cheque vs. invoice...

    1. MonkeyBot

      pay cheque vs. invoice

      The difference is surely that the pay cheque is normally the only source of income and so gives the employer a greater hold over the lawyer.

  2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    Companies aren't people.

    "Human rights law can in principle be invoked by companies and it would be interesting for a court to explore whether the institutionalised discrimination perpetuated by this ruling could be attacked on Convention grounds."

    Everything about that is wrong. Companies aren't people. People (most of them anyways) are capable of emotion. Feelings of compassion, fairness and an understanding of the plight of others are what allow our society to function. Without these things that make us human, we would degenerate into complete Darwinian anarchy: the person with the biggest stick makes the rules.

    Companies, like governments have no “soul.” I don’t speak here of the metaphysical concept of a soul, but rather the ability to empathise with another living being and feel compassion. Companies are instead legally bound in many jurisdictions to be as soulless as legally possible. Anything else would not be maximising shareholder value, and they are legally bound to do so.

    Why, why, WHY, in the name of all that anyone ever has or will hold sacred would or should we as a society (or collection of societies) go out of our way to grant the rights and privileges reserved for thinking and feeling human beings to these artificial soulless monstrosities? A corporation is merely a legal concept designed to isolate the owners of an enterprise from the consequences of the actions performed by said enterprise.

    Human rights for a corporation? HELL NO. Nyet. Nien. Human rights should only be granted to entities capable of understanding the importance of such rights and thusly respecting the rights of others. Without being coerced or forced to do so.

    I will make the obvious exception here for the young and the mentally disabled, whom I believe require our protection as a society despite perhaps not being capable of understanding human rights. I make no such exception for corporations or governments; they are capable of understanding such, but largely unwilling. Not only that, they are legally bound to ignore human right if they can get away with it in a given jurisdiction. (Human rights negatively impact shareholder value.)

    I will never, EVER recognise a corporation or government as having human rights. You’ll have to kill me or imprison me if it ever becomes a requirement for our society. My compliance will simply never occur.

    Would the individual nearest the control circuitry for this planet please initiate a stoppage? Debarkation has become critical.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      What a bizarre rant

      What a bizarre rant. Why is it so difficult to dispassionately consider which elements of 'rights' legislation could usefully be applied to a corporation?

      Obviously the human right to have a family is irrelevant to corporations. But what about the right to not be punished in a cruel and unusual way? It seems quite reasonable that punishments dished out to corporations should be consistent and appropriate.

      You say "corporations are legally bound to ignore human rights if they can get away with it...human rights negatively impact shareholder value" This is wrong. Firstly companies are not *legally* bound - they only have a *duty* to maximise returns to shareholders. That's why you only hear of bosses being sacked when they underperform rather than being sent to prison. On a moral level, you seem to be allowing the very few, but high-profile, cases of corporate abuse of human rights - the petroleum companies in Africa and the 'private security' companies in Iraq - to blind you to the millions upon millions upon millions of companies around the world who conduct their business in a responsible and civilised way, knowing that respect for their customers and communities is in their best interests by far.

      Cheer up and have a cool one.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re:"companies [..] who conduct their business in a responsible and civilised way"

        You will notice that those companies are generally small and the management of those small companies is a one-man affair, so management is directly in contact with the customers and the market.

        If you think about it, when your livelihood is directly dependent on whether or not that customer who just left is going to come back, yes, you will behave in a civilized manner. And you'll most likely do anything you can afford to to make that customer want to come back.

        Such rules of behavior do not apply to big companies, the ones that hire CEOs and lawyers. Those companies are soulless and committed to "maximizing shareholder value", which they do by screwing everyone they possibly can - including their own customers, up to a point.

        There is no need to go about enforcing humanity on small companies - those that are not in tune with their customers die because the customers don't come back.

        Big companies can put up with unhappy customers much easier than small companies, which has a tendency of making CEOs of those big corporations think that they can get away with any dick move they want. Unfortunately, they are most often right, because I have yet to see a major company fold because their customer base didn't appreciate some immoral decision.

      2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        No, yours is the bizarre POV, AC

        In what way can a corporation have human rights (hint: the word "human" gives a clue). To even consider giving human rights to an artificial entity of this type (note, I am specifically not talking about AI or any clearly living organism here) is to weaken the entire concept of human rights. Humans have rights with respect to organisations, not the other way around. To consider it any other way suggests that you have a peculiar world view. If you want some sort of corporation rights, you need to specify what they are, how they apply to all organisations, and why they are important. I doubt that you can do that.

      3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


        Million and million of companies. None of which matter. Most of those companies are tiny. Drops of water in a bucket. The bigger the company is, the more likely it is to be beholden to it's shareholders. To whom, I might add, they are LEGALLY REQUIRED to do everything possible to maximise shareholder value. Missing an opportunity to screw over someone else in order to increase shareholder value leads to a shareholder lawsuit. One the company will most likely lose.

        We are not talking about a few companies in Africa. We’re talking about the top 5000 companies in the world. From poisoning your cat food/baby food by cutting corners to using slave labour to dozens of other violations. These companies aren’t actually doing anything illegal in the jurisdictions they are operating their manufacturing plants etc. They simply operate their plants in places that don’t respect human rights.

        Corporations are not people. You will /never/ convince me they should have the same rights. The right not to be punished in a cruel an unusual way? Why should they have that? If they do something outrageous, crucify them as an example to other companies. We are not talking about PEOPLE here. We are talking about an social agreement. Corporations are not people, they are social agreements that allow the people who own and work for them to legally abstract consequences from the actions they perform.

        Corporations deserve SOME rights. Otherwise they would not be able to function. Those rights should NEVER be called “human rights.” If you require a nicy catchy phrase, call them “corporate rights.” A specific subset of rights aimed at corporations that in NO WAY implies those corporations are legally considered persons.

        If you start considering corporations as persons then you are one step closer to giving corporations the vote and effectively completely changing the dynamic of our society. Shareholders already have the right to loot and pillage the lives of ordinary working folk. I absolute WILL NOT ABIDE corporations being given personhood.

        There is no dispassionate consideration. Corporations are not people. They are a way for people to escape responsibility. People (most of them) have consciences. They would see things like firing hundred of staff, cutting back customer support and cutting corners on the products you produce just to get a slightly bigger round of executive bonuses and increased shareholder to be /wrong/. To a corporation this isn’t only perfectly acceptable, you’ll get sued into oblivion by someone if you don’t.

        Corporations don’t have a conscience. Corporations are not people.

        I will be damned if I will ever stand by and let them be considered as such.

  3. yoinkster

    is this not easy?

    Steve the lawyer is employed by Company F.

    Company F require something to be protected by LPP.

    Company F ask Steve's inactive-yet-practising-when-needed soletrader business to do the work.

    Steve fires off an invoice for a tenner for the work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's right: it's not easy

      Where on Earth are you going to find a Lawyer who'll work for a tenner?

  4. Rogerborg

    Oh, noooo, that's unpossible since IR35!

    Heheheh, shhhhhhh. Nobody giggle.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    artificial communication procedures

    What the hell are artificial communication procedures, and what to they cost per hour?

  6. RW

    Seen this kind of thing before

    Though the details were vastly different.

    My employer had in-house lawyers, but all they did was coordinate handling of legal matters and write headnotes (short summaries) of case reports. They never carried out courtroom work not did they even give legal opinions for our employer. For that, external lawyers were hired.

    The root of these practices lay in the view of lawyers as "officers of the court" and the inherent conflict of interest between that and being a salaried employee. Just as in the situation described in this article.

    An interesting wrinkle of the legal system.

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