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Tax authorities’ consultation of lawyer’s bank accounts amounted to an interference with her right to respect for private life


In a Chamber judgment of 01.12.2015 in the case of Brito Ferrinho Bexiga Villa-Nova v. Portugal (application no. 69436/10) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned access to the bank accounts of a lawyer charged with tax fraud.

The Court found that consultation of the lawyer’s bank statements had amounted to an interference with her right to respect for professional confidentiality, which fell within the scope of private life. It observed that the proceedings to have professional confidentiality lifted had been conducted without the participation of Ms Brito Ferrinho Bexiga Villa-Nova, who had not at any time been able to submit her arguments. Furthermore, and contrary to the requirements of domestic law, an opinion had not been sought from the Lawyers Association during those proceedings. The Court also found that the requirement of an effective control laid down in Article 8 of the Convention had not been satisfied.

Having regard to the lack of procedural guarantees and effective judicial control of the proceedings for lifting professional confidentiality, the Court considered that the Portuguese authorities had failed to strike a fair balance between the demands of the general interest and the requirements of the protection of Ms Brito Ferrinho Bexiga Villa-Nova’s right to respect for her private life.