In a landmark case decided on 15 March 2013, the Dutch Supreme Court recognised the existence of a general legal privilege for in-house attorneys. On 14 September 2010 the European Court of Justice had refused to accept such a privilege for Dutch in-house attorneys in the context of EU competition law (Akzo Nobel/Commission).
According to the ECJ, the employment relationship precludes an in-house attorney from being sufficiently independent to justify granting him/her the privilege. Following that decision, the burning question was whether the Dutch Supreme Court would adopt the same approach for in-house attorneys if they are active in areas of law other than EU competition law. The answer is no: the Supreme Court has now firmly established a legal privilege for in-house attorneys who have been admitted to the bar and comply with requirements guaranteeing their independence.
The Dutch Bar Association (Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten) and the Dutch Association of In-house Attorneys (Nederlands Genootschap van Bedrijfsjuristen) supported the right of in-house attorneys to invoke the privilege. There are over 500 in-house attorneys in the Netherlands who have been admitted to the bar. The Supreme Court's decision safeguards the confidentiality of their advice and communications insofar as they are acting in the interest of their client-employer as an attorney.
The case in favour of an in-house attorney's legal privilege was argued in a case for the Dutch multi utility company Delta before the Supreme Court by Freerk Vermeulen of NautaDutilh.