The inaugural Law Society Justice Award has been presented to the People of Ukraine. The Ambassador of Ukraine to Ireland, Larysa Gerasko, accepted the award at the Law Society's Gala at Dublin’s Intercontinental hotel on 14 October.
The award has been created to recognise extraordinary contributions to the discourse and development of Ireland's legal landscape through legal practice, academia, social justice or rights advocacy.
Ambassador Gerasko said that it was a great honour and privilege to accept the Law Society Justice Award on behalf of her country.
Speaking at the gala event, she said that the award, presented by Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin, was a recognition of the fight every day in her country to protect democracy and freedom.
President Ní Longáin said, “We are honoured to present the inaugural Law Society Justice Award to the People of Ukraine. Ukrainians have shown admirable resistance and perseverance in the face of continued human-rights violations, threats to free speech, and untold unlawful acts of violence."
The ambassador received a standing ovation from the attendees.
She stated that Ukraine’s defenders would continue fighting with bravery and courage for their country’s independence.
“They are fighting not only for statehood, and for the existence of our country and our nation – our Ukrainians are fighting for democratic values, for democracy, and against dictatorship. And they are fighting for the rule of law and for justice,” Ambassador Gerasko said.
She added that, with the support of the Irish people, justice, democracy and the rule of law would prevail.
Offers of assistance
The Law Society, with its members, is coordinating offers of assistance to Ukrainian lawyers who have been forced to relocate to Ireland.
The Ukraine Ireland Legal Alliance Working Group (UILA) is also investigating the scope for Irish authorities to invoke universal jurisdiction, as has been done in many other European countries, and in Canada.
The UILA website also distributes information about the International Criminal Court and the Ukrainian Procurator General’s reporting portals with the goal of reporting crimes, rather than gathering witness evidence.
UILA is also engaging with Victim Advocates International (VAI) to help Ukrainian war-crime victims in Ireland to mobilise.
In her speech to attendees, President Ní Longáin said that she had been privileged to meet many Ukrainian lawyers during her presidency, and to hear their direct testimonies about what had happened in Ukraine since the illegal invasion by Russia in February.
“The ambassador’s people have faced so many devastating events, caused by war and terror since February this year,” she said.
“Through individual and collective acts of courage, ordinary citizens in Ukraine have reignited the global debate on the importance of upholding the rule of law,” she said.
“Their actions have inspired a new wave of engagement in civil society here in Ireland that is building the next generation of social justice advocates,” she added.
“The people of Ukraine have shown the world what it means to stand up for the rights of people everywhere.
“We have witnessed the atrocities that can happen when a blind eye is turned to threats to democracy. The determination of the people of Ukraine to share real-time updates from inside the country has kept the world’s eyes firmly open.
"The Law Society reiterates its condemnation of the Russian war in Ukraine. The rule of law, protection of human rights, principles of democracy, and accountability for violations must be upheld,” she said.
Protecting the rule of law
The rule of law and democracy have never been more challenged, President Ní Longáin said.
Solicitors must work to support the rule of law, whether through their work with individual clients, through the law reform agenda, and by guarding against its being undermined.
A strong legal profession that provides access to justice for all members of society is in the public interest, she added, and allows the economy to perform well, and the State to deliver on its objectives.
Proceeds from the gala went to the Solicitors’ Benevolent Association, an independent all-Ireland charity that assists members and former members of the profession, and their families. The association pays out almost €75,000 each month to assist those in need, President Ní Longáin explained.
The work of the association is completely confidential.