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Key facts of the case:

 

Article 7 (3) of Law 34/2004 of 29 July (law governing access to the law and to the courts), as amended by Law 47/2007, of 28 August, excluded immediately and categorically the possibility of granting legal aid to legal persons operating for profit. The refusal of legal protection to such entities without taking their concrete economic situation into consideration could possibly violate the constitutional right of access to the law and to effective jurisdictional protection, according to which justice cannot be denied due to a lack of economic resources. 

Key legal question raised by the Court:

The Constitutional Court should decide if article 7 (3) of Law 34/2004 of 29 July was in accordance with article 20 (1) of the Portuguese Constitution (access to law and effective judicial protection). This constitutional norm establishes that everyone is guaranteed access to the law and the courts in order to defend those of his/her rights and interests that are protected by law, and also establishes that justice may not be denied to anyone due to lack of sufficient financial means.

Outcome of the case:

The Constitutional Court decided that article 7 (3) of Law 34/2004 of 29 July, as amended by Law 47/2007, of 28 August, violated article 20 (1) of the Portuguese Constitution, because it excluded automatically the possibility of granting legal aid to legal persons operating for profit. So, the Constitutional Court declared the unconstitutionality, with generally binding force, of this norm.

The Court considered that neither the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights, nor the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, lead to a solution that requires the exclusion of the possibility of granting legal aid to for-profit legal persons without a concrete evaluation of their situation.

 

The Court also invoked the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union that underlined that the principle of effective jurisdictional protection set down in the Charter leads to the conclusion that the possibility that legal persons can invoke the principle of effective jurisdictional protection enshrined in the Charter cannot be excluded. This understanding precludes the idea of a necessary incompatibility between the legal aid to legal persons operating for profit and the proper functioning of competitive markets. So, the Constitutional Court considered that this understanding must be applied in the national legal framework bearing in mind a systemic vision of the subject and also to avoid contradictory decisions of the Portuguese courts.