The ICJ is concerned at increasing government interference with the independence of the legal profession, including through intimidation and harassment of the leadership of the National Bar Association and individual lawyers in Kazakhstan.
In the last two months, there have been a series of resignations in the leadership of the National Bar, including Anvar Tugel, ex-President of the National Bar Association who publicly announced that his resignation was the result of “disagreement with the reform proposed by the Ministry of Justice”.
He explained that the “reform” aimed to remove the leadership of the Bar Association.
In his public statement, Tugel points out that several presidents of the local bar associations, faced pressure.
Indeed, Yakubenko Raisa and Vladimir Zolotov presidents of Aktyubinsk and Pavolodar bar associations respectively faced disbarment proceedings in the Kazakhstan courts, initiated by the Ministry of Justice.
The disciplinary charges against them are related to their administration of the bar associations.
He also pointed out that pressure was also exerted on individual lawyers, who had been invited to the Ministry of Justice and instructed which decisions to vote for at the National Conference of delegates of the regional bar associations.
Furthermore, Sergei Sizintsev, the Executive Director of the National Bar Association, has been unexpectedly dismissed from his position following the resignation of Anvar Tugel.
“Instructions about the outcome of the vote, apparently unjustified disciplinary proceedings against high profile lawyers and other such actions constitute interference with the independence of the legal profession and are of concern” Temur Shakirov, ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme Senior Legal Adviser, said today.
“These developments cannot but create a chilling effect on the lawyers in Kazakhstan, including those independent lawyers who openly spoke against the reform of the legal profession,” he added.
Such measures are inconsistent with international law and standards on the independence of the legal profession, including the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
The ICJ calls on the State authorities, including the Ministry of Justice, to refrain from interference with the internal matters of the Bar, especially with the election of its governing bodies.
The interim leadership of the National Bar Association should ensure that elections to positions in the governing bodies are fair and transparent and are not a result of inappropriate interference from whatever quarter.
The ICJ will continue to monitor developments regarding the Kazakhstan legal profession, including disbarment proceedings against heads of regional bar associations, and other instances of apparent pressure on lawyers related to their opposition to reforms of the profession earlier criticized by the ICJ.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that lawyers are entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests, promote their continuing education and training and protect their professional integrity.
The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by its members and shall exercise its functions without external interference (Principle 24)
International principles on the role of lawyers also require the State to ensure that neither disciplinary sanctions, nor other measures such as criminal penalties, are unfairly or arbitrarily imposed on lawyers for action taken in accordance with their professional duties, and in accordance with accepted standards of professional conduct, including those enshrined in the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers
According to Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles it is the obligation of the governments to ensure that lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and that they do not “suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics”.
The Law ‘On the Professional Activities of Advocates and Legal Assistance’ was signed into law on 10 July 2018.
Earlier the ICJ expressed concern in respect to the new law, as contradicting international law and standards on the independence of the legal profession, by enabling the executive to influence or to have control over who is allowed to practice law and substantial influence on disciplinary proceedings against lawyers. Read the full text here.
ICJ statement following the mission to Kazakhstan on the independence of the legal profession.