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CCBE concern over rule-of-law backsliders
James MacGuill at the CJEU in Luxembourg

25 Dec 2018 / EU Print

CCBE alarm at rule-of-law backsliding across Europe

The risk of ‘rule-of-law backsliders’, as has arisen in legislatures in Poland and Hungary, was highlighted at the plenary session of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE).

At its recent meeting in Lille, France, the council heard from Professor Laurent Pech of Middlesex University who said that national legal orders should be stress-tested against the possibility of undue interference.

Underpins single market

The rule of law, rather than just being a dimension of democratic states, also fundamentally underpins the single market, the CCBE heard.

“The legal system is not as good as we think,” Professor Pech warned the gathering, “and lawyers have a central role in the administration of justice, which must be respected.

“Judges, lawyers and academics must work together in opposing backsliding,” he said.


All actors should act in solidarity and make public statements so that those affected do not feel isolated, he said. He urged lobbying at informal and formal institutional levels.

Professor Pech also drew attention to a 2018 commission proposal on the protection of the union's budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the member states, which is currently being considered by the EU Parliament committees, with a first reading due in early 2019.

A key debating point centres around whether this can be viewed as a sanction mechanism against rule-of-law backsliding, alongside the European Parliament powers for the promotion and safeguarding of European values under article 7 of the Treaty on European Union.

The commission’s view is that the rule of law should be seen as an essential pre-condition for sound financial management of the EU’s budget.

The CCBE granted its 2018 Human Rights Award to Polish lawyer Mikołaj Pietrzak for his exceptional involvement and continuous work in the support of human rights and the rule of law.


Accepting the 2018 CCBE Human Rights Award, Pietrzak said that it was an exercise in humility, as colleagues struggled daily to protect the basic rights and freedoms of their clients without the support of an independent bar association, or freedom from the influence of the Ministry of Justice.

In an inspiring speech, he said that, in Poland, advocates had worked very hard to protect the basic principles of the profession and the foundations of every truly democratic state and society: the rule of law, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, the independence of lawyers and the bar associations, and client-lawyer privilege.

“All these principles serve to protect what we, as lawyers, work to further every day: human rights and fundamental freedoms, and – ultimately – human dignity.”

He said that he was proud to be a member of a legal community that had shown so much determination and courage in the face of adversity and populism, and what is euphemistically referred to as illiberal democracy or democratic backsliding.

Polish advocates stand daily before the courts, prosecutors, police and other authorities in Poland and Europe, challenging laws and practices that are in violation of constitutional and international human rights standards, he added.

He said the award is particularly meaningful on the 100th anniversary of the independence of the Polish Bar Association.

Mikolaj Pietrzak said the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should inspire all lawyers under threat to look for a silver lining.

Irish appointment 

Meanwhile, past-president of the Law Society of Ireland James MacGuill (pictured below) was elected third vice-president of the CCBE. He said that he was honoured to have the support of his colleagues in the role.

James MacGuillThe new position will see him stepping down as chair of the CCBE Criminal Law Committee, where he has served for the past five years.

He is one of three officers in the vice-presidential role and will rotate into the president’s office in due course.


William Fry partner Cormac Little has been nominated to the Law Society’s CCBE delegation, while the Law Society’s Public Affairs Manager Cormac Ó Culáin takes up the information officer role.

Eva Massa departs both the Law Society and the delegation after many years of stellar service.

The Irish delegation is led by Paul McGarry of the Bar Council, along with Ciara Murphy, also of the Bar Council, as information officer.

Migration group

Another member of the delegation is senior counsel David Conlon Smith, who is chair of the CCBE Migration Working Group.

The Law Society’s Attracta O’Regan is chair of the European Training Platform Working Group, while the Law School’s TP Kennedy remains a member of the training committee.

The head of delegation role alternates to the Law Society in 2020.

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) was founded in 1960 to defend democracy and the rule of law, as an international non-profit association advancing the views of European lawyers.


Through its channels more than one million European lawyers are represented, from the bars and law societies of 45 countries.

Areas of special CCBE concern include the right of access to justice, the digitisation of justice processes, the development of the rule of law and the protection of the client

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