“We work for people and with people”
Régis Bergonzi, who has a strong commitment to human rights, is the elected President of the Monaco Bar Association. His law firm was named as “Law firm of the year – Monaco” at the Citywealth IFC Awards 2020.
The Principality of Monaco is an independent sovereign state, ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1297. As glamorous as it is on the outside, it can be just as difficult from inside when it comes to legal matters.
It is useful to know that Monaco is part of the European Monetary Zone and the European Union Schengen zone, but it is entirely independent from the European Union. Therefore, the laws that apply in the EU, will not necessarily apply in the Principality of Monaco.
Challenging the police custody law in Monaco
One of the clearest examples of this was the police custody law, which was successfully challenged by Mr Bergonzi in 2010, base on the European Convention on Human Rights.
Previously, if an individual was arrested for any reason in Monaco outside official working hours, they were held in custody without the right to even consult with a lawyer. For example, if a person was arrested on Friday afternoon, then no possibility was offered to consult with anyone or request legal assistance before the next working day on Monday.
“I remember the time I was told that security is essential in Monaco, which I fully agree with. However, I had a much stronger reason to challenge the existing law, which was to provide the base of the fundamental freedom of human rights” – remembers Mr Bergonzi.
Mr Bergonzi has a strong commitment to human rights and holds important positions at the Council of Europe and the International Association of Lawyers. He assiduously ensures that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights is applied to the cases he is involved in, particularly when assisting institutions or clients in sensitive criminal matters.
Driven by his strong belief and commitment, by the end of 2010, Mr Bergonzi completely reshaped the related laws, to comply with human rights legislation.
“I was of the opinion that giving rights to people held in custody and offering assistance to them through lawyers is a truly legitimate need. For this reason, I successfully challenged the Monegasque law and several months later new rules were applied to everyone” – remembers Mr Bergonzi.
This amendment to Monegasque legislation was not the only one. Another incredible achievement was when Mr Bergonzi challenged a part of the data protection law of Monaco, based on his belief that it was not fully compliant with the Constitution of the Principality.
“Strictly speaking, I did not obtain the cancellation of Law 1.165 regarding data protection, however I obtained three decisions by the Supreme Court, which decided indeed that Article 18 of Law 1.165 was not compliant with the Monaco Constitution” – clarifies it Mr Bergonzi.
Before 2013, Monegasque law offered the power of investigation to the Commission de Contrôle des Informations Nominatives (CCIN), a public body in charge of data protection law enforcement. Utilising a previous law, they had the ability to carry out on-site inspections.
“I remember that one of my clients had been inspected by the CCIN on the basis of Article 18 of Law 1.165, and the situation was suited for different violations of the Law. For this reason I decided to challenge it” – tells us it Mr Bergonzi.
The Supreme Court cancelled on-site inspections and judged in three decisions of 25th of October 2013 that Article 18 was not compliant with Article 21 of the Monaco Constitution. Nevertheless, Article 18 of Law 1.165 was modified in 2015 only by a legislative reform.
Thanks to these decisions the Monegasque law was amended, guaranteeing the principle of inviolability of the private home, which is a key step to protecting privacy rights.
Another interesting development will be the effect of GDPR on the Principality of Monaco.
GDPR law in Monaco
GDPR is now in force in the European Union, however even though Monaco has entered into specific treaties with the EU, in particular on financial matters, the Principality is not a member of the European Union. Interestingly, GDPR falls outside of the scope of such treaties.
“As I see it, Monaco should harmonize its legislation with GDPR, but no bill has been voted yet” – says Mr Bergonzi.
However, things change if a Monaco based business deals with clients from outside the territory of the Principality of Monaco. In that case businesses have to comply with both Monaco data protection laws and GDPR.
“Having no bill on the GDPR in Monaco yet does not mean that GPDR has no impact on the economic players of the Principality. Some companies, even if they are located in Monaco, have to comply with GPDR, for instance when they subcontract for a data controller based in the EU” – adds Mr Bergonzi.
A new law in Monaco amending the current data protection legislation is soon expected. This change in legislation is also required to obtain the long-awaited “adequate level” of protection for the Principality of Monaco, which will facilitate data transfers from an EU controller.
These are just few of the many examples as the result of the imagination of Bâtonnier Bergonzi to resolve the issues brought to him by his clients.
“Our main principles are intellectual rigour, high quality of work, confidentiality, independence, honesty and transparency towards our clients” – reminds us Mr Bergonzi.
The Monaco Bar Association
Currently Mr Bergonzi holds the position of elected President of the Monaco Bar Association. We asked Bâtonnier Bergonzi what is the most important activity of the Monaco Bar Association.
“The main role of the Bar Association is to defend the interests of the Bar and its Members. In order to do so, the Bar Association ensures that its Members respect professional conduct and settles ethical issues. It also can take initiatives to protect its Members or to improve the administration of justice and the defense of litigant’s rights” – tells us Mr Bergonzi.
In the Principality of Monaco upon finishing law school, and passing the Monaco Bar exam, a lawyer can start as Avocat-Stagiaire for three years. After that, for the next five years they become an Avocat. This way, a lawyer becomes a fully powered lawyer, called an Avocat-Défenseur, only after eight years. Professional experience really counts in Monaco.
Law firms and legal advisors
It is also important to know that only Monegasque lawyers can represent a client before the court.
“You are perfectly right by writing that there are two kinds of legal professionals in the Principality of Monaco. We can roughly define them as lawfirm of attorneys-at-law (avocats) and legal advisors (conseillers juridiques).
The first ones need indeed to hold Monegasque nationality. They have to pass the Bar Exam and are allowed to plead before Courts in Monaco.
The other ones, Monegasques or foreigners, are usually advise their clients in very specific areas and are not allowed to plead before Courts” – clarifies it for us Mr Bergonzi.
The two professions are authorized to practice in Monaco, but under very different rules. For instance, “avocats” need to comply with ethical rules and have to pay insurance, which is not the case for legal advisors.
Most of the time, “avocats” and legal advisors do not compete on the same market as they do not attract the same kind of clients. However, we were wondering whether there is any future plan to create further differentiations or restrictions to protect the members of the Monaco Bar?
“Some legal advisors tend to create confusion in order to nurture upsetting competition. That’s why, since I have been elected as President of the Bar Association, studies have been made in order to improve the distinction between the two professions and I got this idea from “Citywealth”, that it distinguishes the two professions for their guides and awards” – tells us Mr Bergonzi.
Beside holding along with his position as a Bâtonnier, he actively practices law within his company, the Régis Bergonzi Law Firm, which is highly specialised in criminal law, banking law and high profile divorce cases. These cases are quite common in a country filled with multiple ultra-high-net-worth people.
Most memorable legal cases
We asked Mr Bergonzi about his most memorable cases from the past 15 years.
“Four cases, including three divorce cases, come spontaneously to my mind.
In the first one, I used geo-tracking of the phone of my client’s spouse to prove that he did not live effectively in the Principality of Monaco, therefore we could sustain that Monaco jurisdiction was not competent to pronounce divorce between the two spouses.
In the second case, I obtained in appeal a reduction of €70,000 per month of alimony pronounced by a lower Court, which is the most important reduction of alimony ever judged in appeal in Monaco.
In another divorce case, I was very proud to manage to conciliate two British spouses, whose estate was worth more than one billion euros. It was a great achievement to find an agreement in only a few meetings and to avoid them years of proceedings, especially with such a substantial estate.
Lastly, one of my most memorable case was about banking law and anti-competition regulations. In this case, I defended a Monegasque Bank against another Bank. There were several procedures for the same matter. In one of the procedures, my client was condemned to strong daily penality, which was totally cancelled in appeal” – tells us Mr Bergonzi.
Advocat of human rights
Few people know that Mr Bergonzi has a strong commitment to human rights. He holds an important position at the Council of Europe, he represents the Principality of Monaco at the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture within the Council of Europe.
“I have always shared humanitarian values and wanted to devote a part of my time and energy to a good cause. The Conseil National was calling for applications to represent Monaco before the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CPT) the week following the death of my father in 2009. I saw there an opportunity to give more time to a cause I have always cared about at a global level, with a real impact on nations. I was elected three times by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe as an independent expert for a total mandate of twelve years, which gave me the opportunity to inspect; and had hundreds of interviews in psychiatry hospitals, jails and police custodies in Russia, Romania, Italy, Moldova, France and Belgium.
Previously, I had been appointed to represent the International Association of Lawyers before the Council of Europe so I was already sensitized to the important role of the Council of Europe. It made me realize how, from a legal point of view, Human Rights were an amazing tool to win proceedings and to push forward legislation even if you are just a lawyer.
The three Supreme Court decisions of 25th October 2013 are a perfect example of the impact of Human Rights on national legislation and the way a simple lawyer can push legislators to change the Law” – tells us Mr Bergonzi.
The next generation
What is your advice for the new generation of lawyers, law students?
“I wish to advise them not to forget our profession’s aim, that we work for people and with people. Therefore, you need to be very humane in your relationships, to keep respect for your clients, your colleagues, Judges and your opponents; to remain humble and courteous in all circumstances.
I would also advise them to use their extended creativity and imagination to find solutions in any case” – reminds Mr Bergonzi.
How to find a great lawyer in Monaco
Finally, do you have any suggestions for those who are seeking legal assistance in Monaco? What’s the first step to finding a great lawyer?
“Firstly, I would advise them to try to ask advice from somebody who works at the Court such as judges, court clerks, etc. People who work in legal or related fields, professionals, such as certified public accountants for instance, are in a good position to recommend them the best lawyers to contact, depending on the matter.
If they are looking for a lawyer in a criminal matter, I would suggest asking police officers too, as they are particularly aware of the quality of lawyers in this matter. More broadly, any person who works in the legal sphere can advise them.
Secondly, I would recommend them to determine their budget as some lawyers are more expensive than others, even if it does not mean that a more expensive lawyer is always better than a less costly one. It would help to find the most appropriate lawyer for them” – tells us Mr Bergonzi.
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