(ATINER Conference Papers) Defending the Defenders: Attacks on Lawyers- A Problem in Search of Solutions

By Gill Boehringer, Stuart Russell, Kristian Boehringer & Julio Moreira

(2015) Athens: ATINER’S Conference Paper Series, No: SOC2015-1763.
(Athens Institute for Education and Research)


Lawyers are being attacked with increasing frequency around the globe. Hardly a day goes by that lawyers are not attacked somewhere. We use a broad definition of attacks: any deliberate action against the lawyer which is intended to or is likely to prevent the lawyer from carrying out his or her legal duties. The numbers are staggering. In the past decades thousands have lost their lives. Many more are disappeared, harassed, threatened, detained or charged without cause, disciplined in politically motivated professional proceedings, or dealt with in a variety of other ways such as SLAPP actions at law, including defamation actions which in many countries may result in a prison sentence. Although understandably the contemporary attacks on journalists, which also appear to be increasing, gain much media attention, attacks on lawyers seem not to attract the same amount of publicity. But in research we have done in the Philippines, it appears that lawyers can be as much at risk of extra judicial killing/disappearance as journalists, and perhaps more at risk of at least some other kinds of attacks. Within the category of lawyer we include judges, prosecutors, public and private advocates, law students and paralegals. We have not used the criteria of being a human rights defender for several reasons. First, it is difficult to determine why a lawyer has been attacked. It may have been for their work in human rights defending, but it may be for some other reason. Second, many lawyers are involved in the defence of human rights primarily, but others are only occasionally involved in human rights matters. Both should be of concern to us. Indeed, even those lawyers who do not do human rights work are included in our work because all members of the legal profession play a role in protecting us in different ways, essentially by implementing the rule of law. In a sense then, an injury to one is an injury to the profession, to the institutions of the law and to all of us. Attacks on lawyers occur across the globe and are not limited to the 9th Annual International Conference on Sociology, 4-7 May 2015, Athens, Greece: Abstract Book 27 less economically developed world as might appear from media accounts. Perpetrators appear to be largely state forces, but paramilitary, private army forces, and hired gunmen are also involved. Some attacks are politically motivated while others, we believe a minority, are privately motivated.


Click to access SOC2015-1763.pdf

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