April 8, 2024

Public Auditions

🏛️Audition by a commission or public body

🏛️Audition by the French National Assembly's Law Commission on the confidentiality of legal advice (the "Legal Privilege à la française")

by Marie-Anne Frison-Roche

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► Full referenceM.-A. Frison-Roche, Audition by the French National Assembly's Law Commission on the confidentiality of legal advice  (the "Legal Privilege à la française"), 8 April 2024.

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I had expressed my opinion on the need for French legal system to better ensure the confidentiality of legal opinions drawn up by internal lawyers in companies, in an article published in 2023 in the French academic journal Recueil Dalloz: "La compliance, socle de la confidentialité nécessaire des avis juridiques élaborés en entreprise (Compliance Law, the cornerstone of the necessary confidentiality of legal opinions drawn up by companies". Compliance, the cornerstone of the necessary confidentiality of legal opinions drawn up by companies). 

Following on from this article, and as a specialist in Regulatory and Compliance Law, I was invited by the French National Assembly's Law Commission to give my opinion on the proposed law n°2022 on the confidentiality of consultations by in-house lawyers ( Proposition de loi n°2022 relative à la confidentialité des consultations des juristes d'entreprises), often named in French Legal privilege à la française.

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► Summary of this presentation: I have shown that we must start not from the person (external lawyer / in-house lawyer, for instance) and not even centrally from the information in question (branch of Law by branch of Law), but from the Goals pursued, i.e. from Compliance Law.

In this respect, we must not be misled. We could do so by confusing mechanical "conformity" with this new branch of Law: Compliance Law. Conformity is merely a tool of Compliance Law. Out of concern for the correct use of the French language, as "Compliance" appears to many to be an American term, the proposed law uses the term "conformité" but refers to Compliance Law. Conformity" is merely the mechanical obligation to obey the applicable rules, which is the fate of any subject of law, subject to the mandatory rules, a passive position common to everyone in a State governed by the Rule of Law.

Compliance Law is quite different, with conformity being just one of its tools. On the one hand, Compliance Law imposes an active obligation, and on the other, it targets only certain legal subjects: companies.  For them, it is a matter of ensuring that certain goals set by the legislator are actually achieved, which becomes effectively and efficiently possible thanks to the power of companies (financial power, organizational power, management power, information power, location power, information power). These "Monumental Goals" are either negative (preventing systems from collapsing) or positive (ensuring that systems improve).

For companies to play this role - a role that is not required of other "ordinary" people, as they are not "in a position" to take on such a burden, particularly in terms of finance and organization - those in charge of organizing themselves and taking action, i.e. companies, must "detect and prevent" system failures (as required by laws such as US FCPA, French so-called Sapin 2 and Vigilance laws, European CSRD and CS3D, etc.). To "detect and prevent", which is an order from the Legislator, companies need to know the weaknesses of their organization and of the people they answer to, in order to remedy them: "remediation" is a "remedy" to ensure the "sustainability" of "systems".

This set of key concepts lies at the heart of Compliance Law, the branch of law That focuses on the future.

It is the legal opinions, for example, and in particular the report resulting from internal investigations, that enable those who decide and control this organization (the managers) to fulfill the role entrusted to them by the State. If these opinions are not confidential, the result is not the remediation and preservation of global systems (competitive, climatic, digital, energy, banking, financial systems, etc.): the effective managerial solution in Ex-Ante then consists not in seeking information but, conversely, in not seeking this information, since obtaining it will lead to the weakening of the company through the sanction that the information produces, for lack of confidentiality.

The interests of the system, the State and the company are disjointed, because Compliance Law implies their alliance, which is what the confidentiality of legal opinions produces.

This is why Compliance Law must, by its very nature, ensure the confidentiality of legal advice.

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When asked about the actual text of the proposal, I felt that the explanatory memorandum was particularly relevant, since the link between Compliance Law (admittedly called "conformité" in the proposed bill by a rather too mechanical respect for the French legal language, from which the French legislator has so far been unable to dispense....) is clear, that this confidentiality is attached to the document, that the company can waive it, and that it is clearly distinct from professional secrecy, all three of which should be approved.

For my part, I've suggested a change to the procedure, which must be open to the confidentiality process.

Indeed, public authorities, such as Competition and Regulatory Authorities, are rather hostile to this confidentiality.

Having contributed a great deal to the development of Regulatory Law, and continuing to do so, I believe that Competition and Regulatory Authorities have a logic that needs to be understood. It is as follows: Regulatory Authorities are Ex-Ante (this was less true for the Competition Authorities, but it too is increasingly so) and are in a situation of information asymmetry. Their first concern is to combat this asymmetry. If we translate this into legal terms, it means that in order to carry out their mission of general interest, they must seek out all available information. However, legal opinions, and in particular the internal investigation report, are what I have described as "evidence treasure". In their logic, the Competition and Regulatory Authorities want to seize it.

There is therefore a conflict between two general interest logics: the general interest of the Monumental Goals of Compliance Law actively served by companies, at the behest of the Legislation, which requires the confidentiality of legal opinions, and the general interest of the action of Regulators who fight against information asymmetry and seek to seize the evidential treasures of legal opinions.

For the reasons given above, I believe that the Monumental Goals of Compliance must prevail. All the more so as the rights of the defence converge to this end.

Ultimately, however, it is up to the Judge, in the event of open conflict, to balance these two claims, which are based on the service of the general interest. 

However, reading the proposition, it seems to me that the rather complicated procedure entrusts this to a multiplicity of judges... But since it is indeed Compliance Law which is the best basis for "legal privilege à la française", Compliance Law, which is the extension of Regulatory Law and whose advanced point is the Vigilance duty, it would be more appropriate and logical to entrust this litigation to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Paris Judicial Court. This court has already the exclusive competence for litigation about Vigilance.

This would have another fortunate effect: on appeal, the dispute would be brought before the Paris Court of Appeal, which has exclusive jurisdiction (barring exceptions) over disputes concerning decisions on French Competition and Regulatory Authorities. The judges of the "Pôle 5" (12 chambers specializing in economic law) of the very specific court are seasoned and would be well-suited to strike the necessary balance between the two general interests involved.

I think a procedural amendment to the proposed text along these lines would be welcome.

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► See in my work those that may be of interest with regard to this hearing (all with English summary, many with bilingual working paper) â¤µï¸

 

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche, ðŸ“Le rôle du juge dans le déploiement du Droit de la Régulation par le Droit de la Compliancein ðŸ“—Conseil d'État et Cour de cassation, De la Régulation à la Compliance : quel rôle pour le Juge ?2024.  

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche, ðŸ“Compliance et conformité : les distinguer pour mieux les articuler, 2024.

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche (dir.),📕L'obligation de compliance, 2024.

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche et M. Boissavy (dir.), ðŸ“•Compliance et droits de la défense, 2024.

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche (dir.), ðŸ“•Compliance et droits de la défenseLes Buts Monumentaux de la compliance,  2022.

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche, ðŸ“Contrat de compliance, clauses de compliance, 2022.

🕴️M.-A. Frison-Roche, ðŸ“Le Droit de la compliance, 2016.

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