The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) together with the Council of Europe and the Azerbaijan Bar Association held the international conference on the independence of the legal profession in Azerbaijan on 15-16 November 2018.
The conference on the Role and Independence of Lawyers brought together comparative perspectives from countries of the Council of Europe region and Central Asia as well as from international organizations. Representatives of bar associations and individual lawyers from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan shared their experiences and best practices in addressing challenges to the independence of lawyers.
The ICJ considers the conference to be a landmark event which has created much-needed space for further dialogue on the issue of independence of lawyers in Azerbaijan both with the national and international stakeholders.
The ICJ appreciates the engagement of the Azerbaijan Bar Association and the open debate on these issues at the conference, as a step towards implementation of its previous recommendations that the Bar Association “should initiate, through a consultative process, an internal reform based on the principles of independence of the profession, high standards of legal practice, the protection of lawyers from threats, harassment and hindrance in their work, and the democratic participation of its members.” Defenseless Defenders: Systemic Problems in the Legal Profession of Azerbaijan
The ICJ stresses the need for the Azerbaijan authorities to respect both the institutional independence of the legal profession, and the individual independence of lawyers, in accordance with the international standards outlined at the conference and in the above-mentioned report. Decisions of competent international human rights authorities, including the European Court of the Human Rights, in cases concerning the rights of lawyers, must be implemented in full.
The ICJ looks forward to future dialogue and co-operation with the Azerbaijan Bar Association and other concerned stakeholders in Azerbaijan on the essential elements of an independent legal profession, including as regards lawyers’ professional ethics, qualification of lawyers and the disciplinary system. The new impetus for international engagement on these issues creates room for discussing the most acute institutional challenges and individual cases where the independence of the legal profession may be at stake.
Speaking at the Conference, Róisín Pillay, Director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme said that “the requirement of independence places responsibilities not only on the bar association itself but also on the executive and legislative powers to respect this independence, refrain from interference, and put in place – and respect in practice – appropriate legislative and institutional safeguards.”
Participants underscored problems relating to the ethical responsibilities of lawyers and their enforcement in disciplinary proceedings, in particular as regards potential friction with the exercise of freedom of expression of lawyers.
Temur Shakirov, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, focused on the independence of lawyers as an ethical requirement of individual lawyers, saying that “Independence is an essential principle both for the bar association as an institution and for an individual lawyer. It is known that the institutional independence of the legal profession should be ensured, in accordance with international standards, both in law and in practice. However, the independence of lawyers is also an ethical requirement for each lawyer.”
Henry Reznik, Vice-President of the Federal Chamber of Lawyers of the Russian Federation, stressed in his presentation that “the primary role of the association of lawyers is to protect their [lawyers’] independence and freedom.” He added that “Advokatura is an institute of the civil society. Advokatura is not part of the State and municipal bodies. And Advokatura must have the trust of the society.”
Yuri Pilipenko, President of the Federal Chamber of Lawyers of the Russian Federation, highlighted the natural tensions between the legal profession and government, noting that “… the government and an independent self-regulating professional organization, which has goals to protect rights and freedoms and access to justice, are by definition opponents in a certain sense.”
In his concluding remarks at the Conference, Anar Baghirov, President of the Azerbaijan Bar Association, highlighted that the most crucial mission of the Bar Association was “to protect interests of lawyers and the institutionalized legal profession.”
In that regard he mentioned the need for modification of the Law on Advocates and Advocates’ Activity, stating that the most important role of the Bar Association should be reflected in the law. In addition, among other things he mentioned that issues to be addressed included the number of lawyers, increasing availability of pro bono legal aid, enhancing lawyers’ professional capacity, and cooperation with other countries’ bar associations and international organizations.
In his closing remarks at the Conference, ICJ Secretary General Sam Zarifi stressed the importance of lawyers in the protection of human rights and the rule of law. He stressed that around the world, lawyers were attacked because of their role in defence of their clients: for what they say, what the individuals they represent say, and that such attacks violate the clear prohibition of identifying lawyers with their clients.
He stressed the key role of the bar association in this regard: “To maintain the role of lawyers we have heard again and again how important it is that lawyers have the independence and an association that can pretend this independence. It is part of international law and standards and we would like that standard to be implemented around the world and of course here [in Azerbaijan]. We need bar associations, which are independent and strong to defend the independence of lawyers.”
The ICJ will continue to closely follow issues of the independence and role of lawyers in Azerbaijan. It will continue its international engagement on such matters including with UN and Council of Europe institutions, as well as with lawyers and civil society in Azerbaijan in order to facilitate the independence of lawyers, their protection from harassment and reprisals, and other key principles in line with the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
Problems regarding independence of the legal profession in Azerbaijan were outlined in the ICJ report “Defenseless Defenders: Systemic Problems in the Legal Profession of Azerbaijan” https://www.icj.org/azerbaijan-the-independence-and-role-of-lawyers-must-be-respected-icj-report-says/
The ICJ has raised concerns regarding cases of abusive disciplinary proceedings and other threats to the independence of lawyers, including:
Cases of Democracy and Human Rights Resource Centre v. Azerbaijan and Mustafayev and Democracy and Human Rights Resource Centre v. Azerbaijan: https://www.icj.org/azerbaijan-icj-intervenes-before-european-court-of-human-rights-in-defence-of-harassed-lawyers-and-civil-society/
Azerbaijan: Lawyer Irada Javadova disbarment decided in unfair proceedings, https://www.icj.org/azerbaijan-lawyer-irada-javadova-disbarment-decided-in-unfair-proceedings/
Alayif Hasan oglu Hasanov v. Azerbaijan case: https://www.icj.org/azerbaijan-icj-intervenes-before-the-european-court-of-human-rights-in-a-case-concerning-restrictions-of-lawyers-rights/