Further legal-service categories should be subject to a lower Europe-wide VAT rate, according to the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE).
The body has issued a statement following the December 2021 Draft Council Directive, which updated and modernised the list of goods and services for which reduced VAT rates are allowed.
The CCBE welcomes the inclusion of some categories of
- Services supplied to people under a work contract,
- Services supplied to unemployed people in Labour Court proceedings,
- Legal-aid schemes as defined by member states.
However, it considers that these are insufficient.
The CCBE believes it cannot support differentiation or discrimination between legal services, since these are a key component of the rule of law.
The CCBE takes the view that all legal services play an equally important role in facilitating access to justice.
The cost of non-recoverable VAT borne by private individuals makes it difficult for them to seek enforcement of their rights, thus creating an obstacle to access to justice, the CCBE believes, whether for plaintiff or defendant.
The CCBE considers that legal services should enjoy a treatment equivalent to that of education and health services, including for tax purposes.
It has consequently invited the Council to extend lower rates of VAT to other categories of legal services, especially those for private individuals such as legal advice, support in legal proceedings, as well as alternative dispute resolution.
The objective of the call for a ‘level playing field’ is to respect the principles of ‘equality of arms’ and ‘fair trial’, while promoting core values of the European Union as well as the rule of law.
The CCBE and its member bars and law societies have been considering the issue of VAT rates applicable to legal services for many years, advocating for the application of a 0% rate – or at least lower rates.