For years there has been an interesting debate in Europe about whether protections for lawyers’ rights should be strengthened. The Council of Europe (CoE), which covers 47 member states including the UK, is considering whether continuing attacks on lawyers call for a new legal instrument.
In other words, are the CoE’s 2000 recommendation ‘on the freedom of exercise of the profession of lawyers’, R(2000)21, together with the rights embedded in the European Convention on Human Rights, enough to ensure that lawyers do not suffer when carrying out their duties – and suffer they do, as explained below.
Now a new CoE report says that our rights need a new binding convention specifically focused on lawyers. The report is almost unfindable on the CoE website, and labours under the distinctly unappealing title of ‘Feasibility study on a new, binding or non-binding, European legal instrument on the profession of lawyer – possible added-value and effectiveness’.
Despite this obscurity, and the fact that it is written as a technical report for a technical committee and so not quite up to the excitement of an airport thriller, it turns out to be one of the most useful documents written about the European legal profession for a long time. And it is by an English barrister, Jeremy McBride.
It is useful for many reasons. First, it recites the violence and threats that lawyers face: murder and other assaults; being prevented from meeting clients; communications being monitored and homes and businesses searched; forcing lawyers to act as witnesses against clients; using admission or disciplinary procedures to exclude those whom the authorities consider politically undesirable; and creating bars which are not independent enough to protect members.
Each of these categories is documented with cases. And the report states that it is impossible exactly to quantify the problem, since there is no place in Europe or elsewhere which monitors the position of lawyers alone. Attacks on lawyers are monitored via other collective mandates, such as with human rights defenders or with judges.