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Summary of the Judgment
Summary of the Judgment
Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 26 June 2007.
Ordre des barreaux francophones et germanophone and Others v Conseil des ministres.
Reference for a preliminary ruling: Cour d'arbitrage, now the Cour constitutionnelle - Belgium.
Directive 91/308/EEC - Prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering - Obligation on lawyers to inform the competent authorities of any fact which could be an indication of money laundering - Right to a fair trial - Professional secrecy and the independence of lawyers.
1. Community law – Interpretation – Methods
2. Approximation of laws – Prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering – Directive 91/308
(Art. 6(2) EU; Council Directive 91/308, Arts 2a(5) and 6(1) and (3), second subpara.)
1. If the wording of secondary Community law is open to more than one interpretation, preference should be given to the interpretation which renders the provision consistent with the EC Treaty rather than to the interpretation which leads to its being incompatible with the Treaty. Member States must not only interpret their national law in a manner consistent with Community law but also make sure they do not rely on an interpretation of wording of secondary legislation which would be in conflict with the fundamental rights protected by the Community legal order or with the other general principles of Community law.
(see para. 28)
2. The obligations of information and cooperation with the authorities responsible for combating money laundering, laid down in Article 6(1) of Directive 91/308 on prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and imposed on lawyers by Article 2a(5) of that directive, account being taken of the second subparagraph of Article 6(3) thereof, do not infringe the right to a fair trial as guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 6(2) EU.
It is clear from Article 2a(5) of Directive 91/308 that the obligations of information and cooperation apply to lawyers only in so far as they advise their client in the preparation or execution of certain transactions – essentially those of a financial nature or concerning real estate, as referred to in Article 2a(5)(a) of that directive – or when they act on behalf of and for their client in any financial or real estate transaction. As a rule, the nature of such activities is such that they take place in a context with no link to judicial proceedings and, consequently, those activities fall outside the scope of the right to a fair trial.
Moreover, as soon as the lawyer acting in connection with a transaction as referred to in Article 2a(5) of Directive 91/308 is called upon for assistance in defending the client or in representing him before the courts, or for advice as to the manner of instituting or avoiding judicial proceedings, that lawyer is exempt, by virtue of the second subparagraph of Article 6(3) of the directive, from the obligations laid down in Article 6(1), regardless of whether the information has been received or obtained before, during or after the proceedings. An exemption of that kind safeguards the right of the client to a fair trial.
Given that the requirements implied by the right to a fair trial presuppose, by definition, a link with judicial proceedings, and in view of the fact that the second subparagraph of Article 6(3) of Directive 91/308 exempts lawyers, where their activities are characterised by such a link, from the obligations of information and cooperation laid down in Article 6(1) of the directive, those requirements are respected.
(see paras 33-35, 37, operative part)