European Convention on the Profession of Lawyer/UK: The value of a strong and independent legal profession

March 2018

Protecting endangered lawyers and the rule of law: Andrew Walker QC underlines the growing concerns and global initiatives

The entrance to the home of the Paris Bar is dominated by a map of the world.

A spider’s web of lines links all too many countries to short biographical cards that surround it. Each card identifies a lawyer who has suffered from some form of persecution – even death – simply for doing his or her job: defending the rights of others. It is a firm statement of intent by one of the largest Bars in Europe to stand together with our fellow lawyers, wherever they are under threat. It is a stark reminder, too, of how widespread and serious are the threats faced by lawyers in very many parts of the world.

I am reminded of that Parisian map as I reflect on some of our own initiatives as I write this month’s column. The Day of the Endangered Lawyer is a recent idea, designed to draw attention to what seems to be a growing concern. This year, we joined lawyers across Europe in calling on the Egyptian authorities to take a series of steps to uphold the rule of law and to protect lawyers from arrest, detention and prosecution.

The experience in Europe has inspired another initiative: the proposal for a European Convention on the Profession of Lawyer. We have thrown our weight behind this, and are lobbying for the necessary government support in the Council of Europe. Such support is far from guaranteed. I regret to say that of the 18 UK members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, only four voted on the proposal, and only three of them were in favour.

While the main impetus for this may be experience in other countries, we would be foolish to take our own position for granted. To give just one example: the Bar Council has expended considerable time and energy over the last few years in arguing for legal professional privilege to be given explicit protection in a number of Acts passed by our own Parliament, not always successfully. We and others will be pressing for a convention to include protection for legal professional privilege, as well as for the independence of lawyers and their professional bodies. Protection enshrined in an international treaty would be a valuable addition to our armoury.

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