In a formal opinion to the full ECJ, Philippe L‚ger said that there is a ‘certain incompatibility’ between the two activities and law prohibiting collaboration between accountants and lawyers ‘may be justified’.
But the judge accepted that banning such partnerships could restrict competition.
Considering a case brought by Andersen Legal against the Dutch bar association for blocking MDPs, he said the ban deprived consumers of the opportunity of using a single firm for a broad spectrum of services.
Although his opinion is not binding, the ECJ usually confirms the opinions of its advocate generals in its final rulings.
PricewaterhouseCoopers and Big Five rival Andersen have been locked in an ongoing battle with the Dutch Bar Association in an attempt to overrule its hard-line stance against lawyers and accountants forming partnerships. In November 1999, the Dutch Council of State referred the decision to the European Court of Justice.
L‚ger said this week, however, that the very essence of the legal profession ‘could preclude the establishment of a community of financial interests with members of the professional category of accountants’.
In these circumstances, ‘the restriction of competition caused by the Netherlands regulation seems lawful,’ said the advocate general.
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