Kazakhstan: ICJ deplores new law restricting independence of lawyers

Today, the ICJ expressed concern at the adoption of a new law on lawyers in Kazakhstan.

The Law ‘On the Professional Activities of Advocates and Legal Assistance’, signed into law on 10 July 2018, contradicts 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.

The law will have negative repercussions for protection of human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

“Some of the key provisions of the adopted law undermine the independence of the legal profession, a cornerstone of the rule of law,” Temur Shakirov, ICJ Europe Program Senior Legal Adviser said today.

“Not only does the law weaken the legal profession, it sends an unfortunate message to the public that, as a result, their human rights, including their right to a fair trial, may be harder to uphold within the legal system,” he added.

More specifically, the ICJ is concerned that, under the new law, the role of the independent Bar Association in the composition of the disciplinary commissions is reduced.

Besides lawyers, the Disciplinary Commission will now include ‘representatives of the public’ designated by the Ministry of Justice. While the law does not specify how these members of the Disciplinary Commission would be selected, the selection is to be made by the Ministry of Justice.

The same procedure is not excluded to select members who are retired judges, which the Law requires also be part of disciplinary commissions.

While many of the specific procedures are unclear, it is apparent that these provisions would give the Ministry extensive influence over the Disciplinary Commission, especially as the law does not explicitly require these members perform their duties independently from the instructions of the Ministry of Justice.

The influence of the executive over the disciplinary proceedings of the Bar Association is contrary to the principles of independence of lawyers.

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are to be brought before an impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession, before an independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall be subject to an independent judicial review.

Furthermore, the law continues to give the Ministry of Justice control over admission to the practice of law.

It stipulates that prospective lawyers who have completed their professional training are to be assessed by the Commission for admission to practice established by territorial bodies of the Ministry of Justice.

The commissions consist of seven members, of which only three are members of the Bar Association. The composition of the commissions and the principles of their work are to be approved by the orders of the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Law therefore preserves the previous procedure on admission to the profession criticized by the ICJ earlier, according to which the attestation of applicants for obtaining the membership to the Bar Association and issuing a license were within the exclusive competence of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

At the same time, many defense rights listed in the Law are curtailed or compromised by the wording that would allow for enactment of restrictions by secondary legislation, including that the adopted Law would not allow lawyers to freely and without interference collect evidence in defense of their clients or that lawyer’s inquiries can be subject to limitation where they seek to obtain “restricted information”.

The ICJ notes that according to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, States must ensure lawyers have access to appropriate information, files and documents in their possession or control in sufficient time to enable lawyers to provide effective legal assistance to their clients. Such access should be provided at the earliest appropriate time (Principle 21).

Read the full text in English here

Read the full text in Russian here

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