The primary objective of the Legal Advice Division is to maintain high standards of quality and diligence in the treatment of legal opinions requested by statutory bodies, operational services and support services, in compliance with Rule No. 1390 of 11 May 2017 defining the role of the Directorate of Legal Advice and Public International Law within the Secretariat General of the Council of Europe.
The Legal Advice Division provides legal assistance notably to the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and its Committees, the Secretary General, the European Court of Human Rights, the Commissioner for human rights, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Partial and Enlarged Agreements, the Council of Europe Development Bank, and in general to all other organs and to the Secretariat of the Organisation. Its work concern three main activity areas.
Participation in the elaboration, application and evolution of the legal order of the Council of Europe and its normative acquis
The opinion of the Legal Advice Division is sought before any modification of the internal rules. The Division participates in the internal reform process, in particular where it may impact existing rules. The Division also keeps a permanent dialogue with the Central Division of the Directorate General of Administration on any legal aspect concerning staff management, purchase of goods and services or application of the Financial Regulations.
The Legal Advice Division assists and advices the services in the elaboration of normative texts directed to the member states, in particular recommendations from the Committee of Ministers to member states. The Division ensures legal coherence and consistency.
Ensuring the legal interests of the Organisation vis-à-vis third parties, in particular its privileges and immunities
The General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe is a fundamental text which constitutes, along with the Statute of the Council of Europe, the foundation of most legal acts of the Organisation. It has an impact on the status of staff members, on expenditures and their tax status, on relations with authorities of member States or on relations with third parties, including private individuals. It guarantees the independence of the Organisation.
The role of the Legal Advice Division is to ensure application of the provisions of the General Agreement – and of bilateral agreements of similar nature concluded with member states and non-member states on whose territory the Organisation is present. In this respect, a permanent effort is required to implement in a harmonious manner the rules deriving from different legal systems. The Legal Advice Division ensures, for instance, the legal protection of the European emblem.
The privileges and immunities of the Organisation are indispensable for its proper functioning and independence.
The Office of Legal Advice also provides legal support to the Administration to update documents related to purchases of goods or services. Purchasing contracts raise difficult technical questions related to contractual technique, but also to the interpretation of the laws of the member states, or non-member states. This activity accounts for nearly one quarter of legal opinions rendered.
Thus, the Legal Advice Division sits on a permanent basis in the Tenders Board pursuant to Rule No. 1334 of 29 June 2011 on the terms of reference of the Tenders Board. In order to better identify the problems faced by entities purchasing goods and services, and to the extent possible to propose solutions, the Legal Advice Division also participates in the Buyer Coordination Group. As indicated by its name, this group serves as a tool to ensure coherence in the purchasing policy of the Organisation.
The questions that are dealt with are of an extreme variety and include notably the purchase or rental of computer hardware or office equipment, purchase or rental of equipment, licenses, leases, administrative authorisation procedures, purchase of intellectual services, terms of delivery, taxation, security, intellectual property rights, import of hazardous materials, respect of privileges and immunities, arbitration procedures.
The Legal Advice Division also offers its consulting services in the context of contract negotiations, or where problems arise on implementation of contracts.
Participation in cooperative efforts with the European Union (EU)
The development of cooperation with the EU has multiplied the number of opinions dealing with the participation of the EU in conventions and mechanisms of the Council of Europe, and also on the implementation of cooperation programmes, whether upstream on relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union, or downstream on implementation of such programmes.
The implementation of these programmes means an increase in complex purchasing contracts (sometimes three- or four-party), questions concerning privileges and immunities of the Organisation in member states and non-member states, or the management of extra budgetary resources.