An important step for the Institute - Modification of the IBJ-IJE law (video)
On 9 March 2023, the Belgian parliament passed a law that strengthens the legal status of the company lawyer.
This modernisation is the result of a thorough collaboration with the Justice Cabinet, led by Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.
This is a big step for the Belgian Institute of Company Lawyers (IBJ-IJE), coming two decades after its creation, and is the result of much study, effort and consultation with policy makers and our stakeholders including, among others, the various bar associations and accountancy professions, and directed by a dedicated task force under the previous Council, led by Marc Beyens, Honorary President of the IBJ-IJE and the current board, led by Els Steen, IBJ-IJE President.
The project started with a legislative initiative by three MPs (Katja Gabriëls - Open Vld, Khalil Aouasti - PS, and Koen Geens - CD&V) that culminated in a draft law proposal the Minister of Justice and led to this modification of the law of 1 March 2000.
Specifically, what has changed ?
As a company lawyer, you should be aware of these four important changes to the statute:
- Since the establishment of the Institute of Company Lawyers, the legal advice that company lawyers give to their employer has been protected by legal confidentiality.
This legal confidentialy allows the company lawyer to express nuances and objections without the fear of this advice being used against their company. This encourages the company's employees to consult the company lawyer and provide him/her with all the information needed to provide quality legal advice. It ensures that the company is more aware of its obligations and thus more compliant with the law.
The new law anchors what has long been accepted in court rulings and proceedings: the advice provided by a company lawyer, registered with the Institute of Company Lawyers, is confidential and cannot be seized or inspected by the judicial and administrative authorities. Moreover, from now on, not only the advice but also the request for advice, internal correspondence concerning that request, draft advice, and preparatory documents about the advice are all fully protected.
The law also confirms that company lawyers provide advice on the "ascertainment of the legal position" of the company, which aims to prevent legal conflicts and also concerns the exercise of the company's rights of defence. The law now also explicitly requires company lawyers to work intellectually independently when counselling their employer.
- What is also new in the law is that, from now on, certain company lawyers, often the Chief Legal Officer, who operate under a self-employed status because they are also part of their company’s management, will also be admitted as members.
- The Institute's mission is clarified and supplemented to include promoting the fundamental values of the profession, supporting its members and representing professional interests more broadly.
- After more than 20 years, the functioning of the Institute, its governing bodies and disciplinary bodies are all also being modernised.
Why is this important?
Thanks to the modernisation and strengthening of their status, company lawyers are even better able to perform their role as internal strategic legal advisers and create value for their companies in an increasingly regulated environment, which bridges the gap between the business world and society.
Belgium is thus taking a pioneering role in Europe, making it a potential source of inspiration for legislators in neighbouring countries.
Do you have questions about the company lawyer status and what membership of IBJ-IJE can mean for you?
If yes, then please do not hesitate to contact us.
For constitutional reasons, the amendments to the Law of 1 March 2000 establishing an Institute of Company Lawyers were split into two laws amending the Law of 1 March 2000, which were both voted by the Belgian parliament’s House on 9 March 2023. Two provisions relating to the IBJ-IJE's disciplinary penalties and costs of disciplinary proceedings were thus provided for in a separate law and can still be voiced by the Senate within the legally stipulated timeframe - so they have not yet been finally passed on 9 March 2023.
The amendments enter into force 10 days after the publication of the law(s) in the Belgian Official Gazette.
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