The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) participated in the recent 50th UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Special Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán presented his report on the free and independent exercise of the legal profession.
The CCBE says that the report is important and positive for the legal profession in its emphasis on states taking all necessary measures so that lawyers may exercise their legitimate professional rights and duties free from all restrictions, and without fear of reprisals – including judicial harassment.
García-Sayán, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, recommends that states should implement measures to prevent the identification of lawyers with their clients or the causes they defend.
The Special Rapporteur also stresses the importance of Bars and Law Societies remaining independent and self-governing, to protect the independence and the integrity of lawyers, as well as safeguarding their professional interests.
On the ongoing work of the Council of Europe on an international legal instrument to protect the legal profession, the Special Rapporteur supports the adoption of a binding instrument that is open to accession by non-member states of the Council of Europe.
The Special Rapporteur also thanked the CCBE (pictured) for its work on the report, praising it for “defence of defenders”.
Binding legal instrument
He ended by appealing again to the Council of Europe member states to support the adoption of a binding legal instrument on the protection of the free and independent exercise of the legal profession that is open to accession by non-member states of the Council of Europe.
The report emphasises that the free exercise of the legal profession is an indispensable element of the judicial guarantees that ensure a fair trial and the protection of human rights.
The Special Rapporteur notes with concern a global increase in practices that undermine, limit, restrict, and hinder the practice of law.
This is especially true for lawyers whose activities are focused on the fight against corruption, the defence of human rights, or the protection of groups in vulnerable situations.
The report identifies trends and patterns of interference in and attacks on the legal profession, including:
- Interference in bar associations,
- Physical and psychological abuse of lawyers and their families,
- Defamation in the media and in social media,
- Arbitrary disciplinary proceedings,
- Use of the judicial system and the police corps.
The Special Rapporteur has also identified violations of professional secrecy, as well as searches of the offices of legal professionals, and seizure of their property.
The Special Rapporteur stresses that lawyers play a fundamental role in the consolidation of the rule of law and the protection of human rights.
States have a duty to guarantee that lawyers can exercise their profession without undue restrictions.
The report concludes with recommendations on how to protect those practising law.
Restrictions on the work of lawyers have increased as a result of the measures adopted by the states in response to coronavirus, the report points out.
Between 2010 and 2020, more than 2,500 lawyers were killed, detained or kidnapped in different regions of the world, the report adds.