Commercial Court competent to hear disputes with lawyers and law firms – are architects and architectural firms soon to follow?

Commercial Court competent to hear disputes with lawyers and law firms – are architects and architectural firms soon to follow?

The Act of 26 March 2014 "with a view to awarding jurisdiction to the natural judge in various subject matters" expanded the jurisdiction of the Commercial Court.

Article 573, 1° of the Judicial Code now provides that the Commercial Court shall hear disputes between "enterprises, namely between all persons who in a permanent manner strive for an economic objective, which relate to an action that is performed within the framework of the achievement of that objective". 

After this change of law, a discussion arose as to whether the new expanded jurisdiction of the Commercial Court also covers disputes involving liberal professions. This issue was dealt with in a dispute with a law firm active under the form of a company [advocatenvennootschap] on 21 November 2014 by the District Court of West Flanders, Bruges Department.1

The court concludes that a company which is set up with the objective of providing services by lawyers in a permanent manner does strive for an economic objective, and thus is an "enterprise" as understood in article 573, 1° of the Judicial Code. According to the court, the fact that the partners and associates of this company are all practitioners of an independent profession (to wit, the legal profession) is no argument to conclude the contrary. The court found that article 573, 1° of the Judicial Code does not exclude practitioners of an independent profession and decided that they are to be considered as well as an enterprise as understood in the aforementioned article.

Whether this precedent will also be extended to architects and architectural firms is presently uncertain. Some legal doctrine remains hesitant on this point, still honouring the theory that the court of first instance is competent for them. The question is whether this vision can be maintained, and the aforementioned ruling might well produce a change here.

1 District Court of West Flanders, Bruges Department 21 November 2014, NjW 2015, 463.

For more information on this specific subject, please contact Maarten Somers and Evelyn Put (the authors).