(2016) 41(4) AltLJ 290
Attacks on lawyers are increasing around the world, and represent a significant threat to the rule of law and democracy. They include extra judicial killings, disappearances, political imprisonments and torture, revocation of licences to practice among many forms of interference with a lawyer’s professional duty. They are usually aimed at human rights lawyers and legal critics of government policies.
Australia has not been immune, with a Melbourne lawyer slain a few years ago and a judge some years earlier. There we have also seen unprecedented attacks by the media and political figures on the judges who decided that Brexit must be authorised by Parliament.
The International Association of People’s Lawyers’ list of countries where there have been attacks on lawyers has grown to 115, about 20 per cent in Africa. Recently, human rights lawyers were assassinated in Kenya and Nigeria. In October 2016, at Nairobi, Kenya, the Pan African Lawyers Union Conference devoted a session to the problem.
In China the entire human rights lawyer community is under sustained attack. All have been sanctioned with a wide range of punishments, including prison, torture and loss of licence to practice. At a meeting in Brussels in November, representatives of European legal professional societies and lawyer activist groups met to plan activities for the 7th annual Day of the Endangered Lawyer, 24 January 2017 which focuses on China. In Australia, the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights is organising events for the day. Hopefully the professional societies will join their European colleagues and those in other countries to give support to the brave Chinese lawyers.