The ICJ today expressed concern at the decision of the Kazakhstan Supreme Court, on 26 March, to affirm the disbarment of lawyer Polina Zhukova on spurious grounds that run contrary to international standards on the role and independence of lawyers.
In a supervisory appeal by lawyer against her disbarment, the Court decided to uphold an earlier judicial decision to disbar her.
The International Commission of Jurists observed the Supreme Court appeal proceedings over the past five months.
The case originated from an action of the Ministry of Justice to disbar Polina Zhukova and another lawyer, Lyubov Agushevich, who had been disbarred on the same grounds, but the Court considered she had missed the deadline for an appeak, on charges of disciplinary misconduct in a criminal trial before a jury.
The purported “misconduct” included a statement expressing the innocence of their client, submitting legal motions and including for recusal.
These actions were interpreted as demonstrating an “incorrect attitude” to the Court, and as delaying the judicial process in alleged violation of articles of the Criminal Procedure Code which could “arouse prejudice of the jury towards the defendant”.
In the course of the hearings where the lawyers represented their client, two rebukes were issued to the lawyers concerned.
These included the charges of “asking a question which she knew the answer to”; filing a recusal to the presiding judge in the presence of the jury, reading a case file page; and filing a motion for an examination of the witnesses who attended the hearing.
All these actions were understood by the trial judge as violations of the criminal procedure which later were used as grounds for the termination of the lawyers’ license.
Disbarment of a lawyer on such grounds raises prima facie concerns of improper sanctioning of a legal professional for the exercise legitimate professional functions.
The action appears to contravene the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which specify the duties of lawyers to assist their clients in every appropriate way (Principle 13) and provide that lawyers must be able to perform their professional functions without improper interference (Principle 14).
The ICJ will make a full assessment of the compatibility of the proceedings and the ruling with international law and standards, in a report to be published in the coming months.
The ICJ has observed three hearings in the case before the Supreme Court from November 2013 to March 2014.
ICJ observers present at hearings included Ketil Lund, an ICJ Commissioner and a former Justice of the Norwegian Supreme Court, Zulfikor Zamonov, a lawyer from Tajikistan, and Almaza Osmanova, a lawyer from Kyrgyzstan and Director of the Central Asian League of Lawyers.
The ICJ uses this opportunity to thank the Supreme Court for its facilitation of the trial observation in the case.
Róisín Pillay, Director, ICJ Europe Programme, roisin.pillay(a)icj.org
Temur Shakirov, Legal Adviser, ICJ Europe Programme, temur.shakirov(a)icj.org
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