Brussels, 31 January 2008
In Finland, depending on the applicant's financial situation, legal aid may be given totally free of charge or against a partial contribution to the costs. In addition, the legal aid system in force in that Member State provides that, as regards matters to be heard by a court of law, the recipient of legal aid may choose to be assisted by a private attorney or by an attorney working as an employee of a public legal aid office.
According to the current practice in Finland, legal aid provided by an attorney working for a public office in return for a partial contribution is not subject to VAT. However, when the recipient of legal aid has chosen to be assisted by a private attorney, the same services fall within the scope of the tax and are charged VAT.
The VAT Directive calls for subjection to the tax of services provided by public authorities where doing otherwise would give rise to significant distortions of competition. The Commission, after having given the Finnish authorities the opportunity to submit their observations with a letter of formal notice, understood that this different VAT treatment granted to essentially identical services gave to such distortions to the detriment of private attorneys. For that reason, it issued a reasoned opinion in December 2006 (IP/06/1815), but since the reply it received in February 2007 was not satisfactory, the Commission has decided to refer the case to the Court of Justice.
The Commission's reference number is 2004/4282.
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