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CCBE - Resolution on Acces to Justice and VAT

The Council of the Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE), which has among its duties to further the achievements of the objectives of the European Union Treaties, solemnly calls in favour of a reduced VAT rate on the legal services requested by individuals. Once again, the CCBE would like to emphasise the specificity of rendering legal services on the internal market. Legal services occupy a special place within the internal market of services and goods. On the one hand, they transcend the latter, from the moment that these services can affect the fundamental rights of individuals and the mere running of the democratic system. On the other hand, they are dealing with the structure of this internal market, which is entirely governed by legal rules.

The legal services, to which litigants resort, are different from other services. Firstly, they are not launched according to the litigant’s choice. He/she is due to resort to them, either because he is sued, or because he is obliged to make his/her right complied with. As with the health services, legal services are not part of the day-to-day services for consumers.

Secondly, the rule of law which is the same for everyone, and the principle of equality of arms as far as justice is concerned, imposes that litigants are treated in the same way as far as access to and implementation of legal services are concerned. VAT leads to inequality through the increase in the price of services for individuals whereas it is neutral for economical traders who can be refunded. The State, responsible for the compliance with the Rule of law, can not maintain this inequality of treatment which they themselves impose, as this is an inequality between two holders of rights.

As a global review and rationalisation of rules and exemptions applying to the definition of reduced VAT rates are led at a European level, the CCBE would like to remind all involved parties about the requirements of the fundamental principles of, among others, Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and Article 47 of the Charter, in order to obtain that VAT ceases to be both an obstacle to the access to justice and a breach, incompatible with the rule of equality of the treatment of holders of rights.

By its motions and resolutions of 13 May 1989, 23 April 1992, 11 April 1997, 25 April 1998, 23 April 1999, 7 October 1999 and 25 November 2000 respectively, and through negotiations with the European Commission, the CCBE has consistently tried to achieve a complete removal or a reduction of VAT levied on legal services used by individuals. More recently, problems caused by VAT were repeated during the hearing on improvements of European process law, held on 25 March 2003 by the European Parliament committee on legal affairs and internal market.

Today, the CCBE solemnly calls again for a reduced VAT rate on legal services.

The CCBE asks national and European authorities that all measures be taken to ensure reform of the VAT system at a European level to end existing obstacles to access to law and the principle of equality of arms as far as justice is concerned, in which individuals are the first to suffer.

Conseil des Barreaux de l’Union européenne – Council of the Bars and Law Societies of the European Union association internationale sans but lucratif
Rue de Trèves 45 – B 1040 Brussels – Belgium – Tel.+32 (0)2 234 65 10 – Fax.+32 (0)2 234 65 11/12 – E-mail ccbe@ccbe.org – www.ccbe.org

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