Lawyer-bashing has long been a national pastime, with attacks regularly mounted by the press and politicians on ‘fat cat’ defence barristers and ‘activist’ legal aid lawyers for having the nerve to, er, do their job.
But a new target has emerged – the alleged ‘enablers’ of oligarchs, whose cash was generally welcomed in London until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
So it was that a panel of eminent investigative journalists queued up at the Frontline Club in London on Tuesday evening to pour scorn on claimant media lawyers as the pressure continues to build.
Some firms are ‘becoming the servants of the super-rich’ and using litigation to try and ‘silence a journalist for years’, said Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose work exposing corruption in Malaysia led to her being sued in London and elsewhere.
Paul Caruana Galizia, a reporter at Tortoise Media whose mother Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in Malta in 2017, said London lawyers are offering a ‘one-stop oligarch shop’ and, in certain cases, effectively ‘acting for an organised crime group’.
Even an officer of the court joined in, with Adelaide Lopez – a senior associate at Wiggin who recently represented journalist Catherine Belton – saying that ‘naming and shaming … is probably going to be more effective than anything the SRA is going to do’. Ouch.
Asked whether the Solicitors Regulation Authority has the ‘capacity or the competence’ to enforce potential new measures to stop so-called ‘lawfare’, Lopez and fellow lawyer Charlie Holt – UK campaigns manager for English PEN – answered in unison: ‘No.’
Perhaps even Gazette readers who deplore the criticism of lawyers for the clients they represent can agree on that one.
Along with the workaday perils of practising law that they share with their male counterparts, such as being gunned down in the street, Colombia’s women lawyers face threats that are particular to them. They could be raped, for example, or suffer another form of sexual assault that aims to intimidate and discourage them from doing their job – which is representing and protecting the vulnerable through the rule of law. Also, women lawyers’ children may be threatened with violence or press ganged into a guerrilla army, where the only subject on the curriculum – Marxist precepts apart – is how to kill.
These are some of the stark truths to emerge from this year’s Day of the Endangered Lawyer (24 January) panel discussion chaired by Law Society international human rights adviser Doctor Marina Brilman. Previous discussions have looked at other countries where the rule of law no longer holds sway, such as Azerbajan, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt. This year’s focus is on the South American republic of Colombia, where the 2016 peace agreement was supposed to have ended the 60 year conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the state.
The conflict claimed around 262,000 lives, displaced 6.9m people, saw around 18,000 children forced to join armed groups and many thousands more people ‘disappeared’, raped or tortured. The optimism engendered by the agreement has failed to bear fruit, as the three Colombian lawyers on the panel report.
Dora Lucy Arias Giraldo is a member of Colombia’s leading human rights lawyers’ collective. She begins: ‘The Colombian constitution states that it is the duty of lawyers to promote human rights and represent the vulnerable. And yet the government, working through its own intelligence organisations, has an active strategy of diminishing and weakening our operations through attacks on our children and sexual violence against our (women lawyers’) bodies.’ She concedes: ‘There are protection measures in place regarding gender, but they are under-funded – a particular problem when trying to bring powerful economic players to justice.’
Ana Maria Rodriguez, who is also a human rights lawyer, warns that Colombia’s ‘entire existence as a social justice state’ is under threat. She points to recent ‘reforms’ that were designed specifically to weaken the remit of both public prosecutors and the ombudsman, while increasing the power of the executive to turn a blind eye to government corruption.
Lawyers are being arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted and convicted, as well as forcibly disappeared and even killed in countries across the world because of their work upholding the rule of law, the Law Society of England and Wales said to mark the day of the endangered lawyer on 24 January.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “We honour the courage and commitment of lawyers around the world who put their lives at risk so that people’s rights are protected and those who violate them are held accountable.
“Today we think particularly of our colleagues in Afghanistan who helped build the justice system and bring stability to the country under the former government. Since the Taliban took power some have tragically been killed because of the work they did, a few managed to escape, but far too many are in hiding, at risk from not only the Taliban but also from terrorists and criminals they convicted since released from prison.
“The Law Society stands in solidarity with legal professionals around the world. We will continue to work to support them and to contribute to building strong, fair justice systems everywhere.”
The three-day hearing of the ÇHD case began today at the Silivri Prison Complex in İstanbul.
Several lawyers’ groups from around the world, including France’s National Bar Council and bar associations of Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels and Bologna have announced support for the Progressive Lawyers Association, whose members have been on trial for seven years.
“We wholeheartedly and without reservation support you in your request for acquittal and immediate release,” the groups said in the letter.
The ÇHD İstanbul Chair read out a letter sent by the organizations at today’s (January 5) hearing of the ÇHD case.
The hearing of 22 lawyers from the ÇHD and the People’s Law Bureau (HHB) will take place at the Silivri Prison Complex Courtroom between today and January 7.
Two of the defendants, ÇHD Chair Selçuk Kozağaçlı and lawyer Barkın Timtik, have been remanded in custody for five years.
The prosecutor who was on September 15 appointed to the case that has been continuing for seven years and submitted their opinion as to the accusations on November 17, demanding the punishment of Kozağaçlı for “managing an illegal organization” and the other defendants for “being a member of an illegal organization.”
Full text of the letter by the lawyers’ groups:
“With this letter, we would like to support you in the hearings of January 5, 6 and 7, 2021, which will take place before the 18th Chamber of the High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
“We have observed the hearings of this trial between 2013 and 2021 and have conducted fact-finding missions on several occasions. It is clear from our observations and investigations that the trial against you is essentially political, has not met the guarantees of a fair trial, and has directly undermined the independence of lawyers.
Egyptian authorities have summoned at least five prominent human rights defenders during July 2021 for questioning as part of a decade-old criminal investigation, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have used Case 173 of 2011 to arbitrarily prosecute leading rights defenders and organizations over allegations of receiving foreign funds.
Since 2016, authorities have summoned for interrogation dozens of members of nongovernment groups, mostly human rights organizations, and placed over 30 of them on arbitrary travel ban lists, and frozen the assets of over a dozen organizations and individuals. Three of the five people summoned in July had not been questioned previously. The case has had a chilling impact on civic space in Egypt.
“Egyptian authorities should close Case 173 once and for all, and stop harassing independent rights organizations for doing their work,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The repeated summons, on top of travel bans and asset freezes, is clearly a tactic to stifle civic space in Egypt.”
Those summoned most recently include Mozn Hassan, a women’s rights defender and director of Nazra for Feminist Studies and Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, on July 29. On July 27, the authorities summoned Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and Negad al-Borie, director of the law firm United Group. On July 15, the authorities summoned Azza Soliman, women’s rights defender and director of the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Awareness. The authorities had not previously summoned Bahgat, Eid, or al-Borie despite banning them several years ago from leaving the country.
Based on social media posts and statements by the activists following the latest prosecution sessions, the questions by the investigative judge, Ali Mokhtar, focused on the activists groups’ funding, in some cases as far back as 2005.
Judge Mokhtar allowed them to look at the prosecution file, which consisted mainly of National Security Agency allegations against them and their organizations, such as “tarnishing the image of the government” and in some cases referencing reports these organizations published about human rights abuses. The judge did not allow any of them to take copies of the prosecution files or inform them of the actual charges they are being investigated for.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said in a statement that Eid’s interrogation lasted about three hours and that the judge ordered him to return for another session on August 1. The statement said that the prosecution file, which Human Rights Watch has not seen, included National Security Agency allegations that Eid and ANHRI had played a role in the country’s 2011 nationwide uprising, and that ANHRI had received funding from Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ has denied those allegations. Human Rights Watch is typically not a grant-making organization, Human Rights Watch said.
Ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall, the presidents of the G7 bars have signed resolutions calling on their governments to tackle issues including climate change, the ethics of legal technology and undue interference with the independence of the legal profession.
Although consensus proved elusive at the G7 bars summit on 17 May, chaired by Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce, one resolution on lawyers at risk gained unanimous approval and a second resolution on guaranteeing continuity of justice in a time of crisis also gained widespread approval.
The presidents and executives of the representative bodies have committed to make efforts to urge governments to:
protect the rule of law and access justice
uphold the independence of the legal profession
condemn any attacks on lawyers carrying out their duties
Alongside resolutions focusing on lawyers at risk and continuity of justice, there was also progress on key areas that will impact the future of the legal profession, most prominently climate change and lawtech.
What was discussed on 17 May?
We proposed four resolutions, alongside a fifth resolution from the Conseil National des Barreux (CNB), focusing on areas that are key for both promoting the work of lawyers and assisting wider society:
lawyers at risk
lawtech and ethics
continuity of justice
These five areas reflect the concerns of the legal profession and wider agenda of the national G7 meeting, with a focus on leading the global recovery from coronavirus, tackling climate change and championing our shared values.
The strongest agreement between the bars was found on the ‘lawyers at risk’ resolution, with all of the seven bars signing the final statement and agreeing to promulgate the resolutions to their governments via the so-called national ‘Sherpas’ (civil servants and diplomats who help guide the leaders of the G7 countries in the leadup to the summit).
Un progetto promosso dall’Unione delle Camere Penali Italiane grazie alla sinergia fra gli Osservatori Avvocati Minacciati ed Europa. Conferenza stampa di presentazione domani 11 giugno alle ore 14.00 in diretta sul canale YouTube dell’UCPI
Il diritto di difesa è un diritto fondamentale che gli avvocati, tramite la loro attività, promuovono insieme agli altri diritti e libertà. Pur tuttavia, non è sempre scontato, né rispettato: in troppe occasioni, infatti, nostre Colleghe e Colleghi sono ostacolati, perseguitati o minacciati, addirittura uccisi, solo perché svolgono il loro dovere.
Gli avvocati in pericolo sono spesso isolati, abbandonati. Ricevere un supporto, sia di tipo morale che materiale, da parte della società civile ed in particolare dai Colleghi, dà loro la forza di proseguire nelle loro battaglie.
L’Unione delle Camere Penali Italiane ha da sempre dimostrato una forte sensibilità e solidarietà nei confronti dei colleghi perseguitati, in particolare attraverso l’attività dell’Osservatorio Avvocati Minacciati e dell’Osservatorio Europa.
L’impegno verso gli avvocati e gli human rights defenders in pericolo si è già concretizzato in numerose iniziative, tra le quali:
l’interlocuzione col Relatore Speciale delle Nazioni Unite sulla situazione dei difensori dei diritti umani; la partecipazione a fact finding missions e alle udienze nei confronti di Colleghe e Colleghi ingiustamente processati a causa del libero esercizio della professione; la partecipazione ai network nazionali ed internazionali in difesa degli avvocati e degli human rights defenders in pericolo; l’organizzazione di eventi su tutto il territorio nazionale, in particolare, in occasione della Giornata Internazionale degli Avvocati Minacciati (24 gennaio); la stesura di comunicati in supporto di colleghi in pericolo, anche in sinergia con ordini ed associazioni forensi internazionali, ed in occasione di eventi e celebrazioni di risalto nazionale ed internazionale.
È dal desiderio di essere al fianco dei difensori in pericolo in modo ancor più fattivo, che l’Unione delle Camere Penali Italiane si fa promotrice dell’iniziativa “Adopt an Endangered Lawyer/ Adotta un avvocat@ minacciat@”, coordinata dagli Avv.ti Federico Cappelletti, Nicola Canestrini, Ezio Menzione e Giorgia Cigalla.
This list has been compiled by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) on the basis of publicly available reports from international human rights organisations and information from partner lawyers in Azerbaijan.
In the years following the 2014 crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan and the criminal prosecution of NGO and human rights defenders, human rights lawyers who took up these and other ‘politically sensitive’ cases have been subjected to severe retaliation by the authorities, which has sometimes resulted in the suspension of their licences and even disbarment.
Disciplinary proceedings have been brought against human rights lawyers in response to their legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression: for publicising human rights violations perpetrated against their clients in detention, or for disclosing instances of the abusive administration of justice in their clients’ cases. As a result, over a dozen Azerbaijani lawyers have been deprived of the opportunity to practise their profession, and over two dozen have been targeted by the Azerbaijani authorities since 2005.
In January 2020, in its first case relating to the disbarment of a lawyer in Azerbaijan, the European Court of Human Rights (European Court) found a violation of the right to a private life (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) in the case of Elchin Namazov, who was disbarred in the absence of adequate procedural safeguards in disciplinary proceedings brought against him. The Court found that the domestic courts had failed to assess the proportionality of the sanction.
Khalid Bagirov is another prominent human rights lawyer who was first suspended in 2011 after he made comments about the suspicious death of his client in police custody. He was later permanently disbarred in 2015 for criticising Azerbaijan’s judicial system during a trial which concerned a domestic court’s failure to implement the European Court’s judgment in the case of Ilgar Mammadov, an opposition politician whose arrest was found to be politically motivated.
In June 2020, the European Court ruled that Azerbaijan’s suspension and disbarment of Bagirov was in breach of his freedom of expression (Article 10 of ECHR) and right to a private life. The Court ordered the Azerbaijani Government to ensure the “maximum possible reparation” for Khalid Bagirov, “and [that] they should put the applicant, as far as possible, in the position in which he had been before his disbarment.”