Constitutional Court Approves Law on Professional Associations

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The Constitutional Court (TC) did not find any unconstitutionality in the law that modifies the creation and operation of professional associations. The decision was made this Monday and shortly after, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced that he would promulgate the new law “immediately”. Among the most important changes is the compulsory payment of internships for access to the professions.

On one side were about 20 orders and the President of the Republic, who had constitutional doubts about the law of the Assembly of the Republic. On the other side, in addition to the parties that voted for it (PS, IL and PAN), was the government.

The judges of the Palace of Ratton gave reasons to the latter and did not consider that “any constitutional principles or norms” had been disregarded, they announced. The request for prior inspection had been sent by the President of the Republic to the TC at the beginning of the month. Shortly after the decision, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced that he would “immediately” promulgate the law.

Each regulation defines stages

One of the most important changes in the Law of Professional Associations is the mandatory payment of professional internships for admission to the profession. This article particularly affects lawyers, who, in order to belong to their respective bar associations and to be able to practice, must complete an internship, which until now has rarely been remunerated. However, the law also leaves it to the discretion of the associations to define the legal conditions under which this remuneration will take place, which means that all associations will have to amend their regulations.

António Mendonça, president of the National Council of Professional Orders (CNOP), believes that “the changes are inappropriate and limit the democratic functioning of the institutions. The CNOP will meet tomorrow to analyze the ruling.

Pressure from outside

The decision, which was consulted by JN, was unanimous in almost all articles. The exceptions were the changes in supervision and the incompatibilities. In the first case, councilor Maria Benedita Urbano voted against because she believes that limiting the dominant position of the religious orders in the new supervisory body is an “expropriation of their autonomy”. The new law stipulates that 60% of the members of each supervisory board, including the president, must be non-lawyers.

Vice President Pedro Machete is opposed to the new incompatibility that prohibits order directors from being directors in public bodies, because it “negatively discriminates against them without sufficient material basis”. For example, a director of a hospital service can no longer be a member of the organs of the order to which he belongs. Although he can and must remain registered in order to practice.

There are 21 professional orders in Portugal, most of them related to health. Ana Rita Cavaco, the nurses’ representative, reacted to the decision with a call for “common sense” and criticism of the new model of supervision, which she considers “an interference”. Miguel Guimarães, the president of the medical staff, promised to continue challenging the law, which “could harm patients” by creating a board of directors without a physician majority.

The change in the law was part of the PS electoral program and “is demanded of Portugal by the European Commission, systematically, in all the exercises of the European semester,” justified the Prime Minister. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had also warned Portugal about “excessive restrictions” on access to certain regulated professions. This demand is included in the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Without changing the law, Brussels had already warned that Portugal could see the next check of the “bazooka”, 2331 million euros, compromised.

Main changes in the law

Professional internships for access to the profession will always be remunerated and have a maximum duration of 12 months. The conditions of remuneration will be determined by each order.

The new supervisory board will be composed of 40% registered members of the Order and 60% non-registered members, including the president. This is one of the articles most criticized by the orders, who refuse to be supervised by those who do not know the field.

Anyone who holds a leading position in a public office can no longer hold an office in the organs of the Order in which he is registered.

Like the new supervisory body, the new law also provides for the establishment of an ombudsman in each regulated profession, who will not be registered with the Bar Association.

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