A lawsuit filed by an unknown testing laboratory against German accreditation Body DAkkS was successful in obtaining a court ruling that formally provides for “permanent accreditation,” doing away with the concept of a 5-year accreditation limit. The ruling, written in German, likely applies only to EU countries.

According to translated court documents, DAkkS argued that their contract invokes a 5-year limit to accreditation, thus forcing clients to undergo a “re-accreditation” audit at the end of the period. The laboratory sued, and the German Bundesverwaltungsgericht, or supreme administrative court, ruled that such a contract, nor ISO 17011, was not underpinned by an actual law, and was therefore null and void. This shows a marked difference from US law, in which courts defer to contract language and allow them to stand unless they violate a law.

DAkkS was ordered to pay an undisclosed amount for court fees, having lost the case.

Accreditation bodies and certification bodies use limitation periods in order to justify expanded audits after the period is over. For ISO 9001 CB contracts, this is typically at the 3-year mark. Long ago, the thinking behind creating the contract limitation idea was to lock clients into a CB for that period, and disallow them the ability to change CBs until the contract expired. The limit also gave clients a fixed time period at which they could reevaluation the CB and consider changing, if needed. In reality, clients “fire” CBs at any time, and the limit provides clients no real benefit, but CBs can charge extra for a “recertification audit” after the limit is reached. The Accreditation Body scheme is similar in this regard.

The German court ruling denies such limits for ABs, which could then flow down to the 3-year limit imposed by CBs as well.

Ironically, the concept of “permanent accreditation” or “permanent certification” should be seen as a win for the ABs/CBs, but DAkkS argued against the concept.

DAkkS, in response, is updating procedures to provide for “permanent accreditation” in regions where the German court ruling would apply, and where no overriding law provides for accreditation contract limits. It will keep in place its current procedures for all other regions.

It’s not yet clear how this affects other ABs or CBs in the EU. It is unlikely to have any effect in the US, where courts have granted ABs broad authority to conduct business per their own contracts, and then denied lawsuits aimed at them, branding ABs a “special” quasi-governmental form of entity that must be allowed freedoms beyond those of any government agency or private company.

 

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