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Netherlands: Proposed Tightening of Supervision over Legal Profession

(Mar. 26, 2012) The Cabinet of the Dutch government has put forward a legislative proposal on the creation of an independent Supervisory Board to be the body ultimately responsible for lawyers' conduct. The Board will have three members, none of whom may be lawyers. The body will issue an annual report on its activities. (Press Release, Cabinet Tightens Supervision of the Legal Profession (Mar. 2, 2012).)

According to a government press release, the purpose of the proposed regulation “is to tighten supervision of the legal profession, because [that supervision] no longer complies with contemporary requirements.” The government indicated there is a need for checks to ensure that lawyers, who have certain privileges in society, such as a (limited) exclusive right to plead in court, comply with relevant regulations and do not abuse those privileges. (Id.)

There are 19 local bar associations in the Netherlands, one in each of the country's 19 districts, and one National Bar Association. (Organisation, Netherlands Bar Association website (last visited Mar. 21, 2012). Under the Cabinet proposal, deans of local bar associations would be primarily responsible for exercising supervision in their locality, with the Supervisory Board shouldering ultimate responsibility. Under a national uniform supervision policy developed by the Board, the deans could “in principle, start work independently,” but the Board would have the power to issue instructions that the deans must follow. If a dean failed to exercise supervision properly, the Board would have the authority to request an independent judge to suspend or dismiss him or her. (Press Release, supra.)

In addition, the Supervisory Board is to oversee matters involving money laundering, as referred to in the Act for the Prevention of Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism, insofar as lawyers are concerned, without any external supervisor playing a role. (Id.)

Under Dutch law, lawyers have an obligation to maintain the confidentiality of their clients. The bar association deans, under the proposal, are authorized to break that obligation in the context of exercising their supervisory duties. Supervisory Board members cannot do so, however, “nor are they allowed to take note of lawyers' files.” (Id.)

The Cabinet agreed to send the proposal to the Council of State (Raad van State), whose advisory division reviews proposed legislation before it is submitted to Parliament. Upon its submission to the Lower House (Tweede Kamer), the text of the bill and the Council of State's advice will be made public. (Id.; The Dutch Council of State, Raad van State website (last visited Mar. 21, 2012).)