Kazakhstan: Sergey Sizintsev’s disbarment is contrary to the law and should be revised

Following the decision of the Petropavlovsk Court to disbar Sergey Sizintsev the former Executive Director of the National Bar Association, the ICJ reiterates its concerns at the unjustified proceedings against him.

The ICJ calls on the relevant authorities to revise the decision to disbar Sizintsev, which is not issued in accordance with the law and may constitute retaliation for his open criticism of the problematic reform of the legal profession in Kazakhstan.

On 21 May, the Petropavlovsk City Court No. 2, in a hearing chaired by judge Larisa Krukova, approved the application of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan to revoke Sergey Sizintsev’s license to practice law.

The formal reason for the disbarment was that the lawyer practiced law while being the Executive Director of the Republican Bar Association from 2016 to 2018.

According to the complaint of the Ministry of justice, a member of the Bar Association was prohibited from “occupying a position in the public service or engaging in business activities or holding any other paid position” in accordance with article 33.11 of the “Law on Advocates Activity and Legal Aid”.

Sizintsev argued that the Ministry of Justice incorrectly interpreted the notion of “another paid position”, since the second sentence of the same article states that “A lawyer has the right to be elected to a paid elected or appointed position in the Bar Association, the Republican Bar Association and international public associations of lawyers”.

Also, the lawyer stated that he had previously addressed a request to the Ministry of justice asking about possibility of holding a position in the Bar Association and working as an advocate and the Ministry of justice in its official response stated that “Lawyers occupying elective or appointed posts in the territorial or Republican bar associations are not obliged to take any action to terminate their license to engage in advocacy, unless there are other grounds provided by law”.

It was also answered, “that in this connection, for the indicated reasons, the validity of the license for the right to engage in advocacy activity should not been suspended”. In addition, the Ministry of Justice previously voiced a similar position on its official web-portal in response to a request from another user.

The ICJ has previously raised concerns that pressure on Sizintsev and other lawyers started after they had actively advocated against the law “On Advocates Activity and Legal Aid”, which attempted to interfere with the independence of the legal profession.

In that regard, the ICJ reiterates that according to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.

In particular, they have the right to take part in public discussion on matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization. (Principle 23).

In cases of disciplinary action against lawyers, international standards provide that “[a]ll disciplinary proceedings shall be determined in accordance with the code of professional conduct and other recognised standards and ethics of the legal profession and in the light of [the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers]” (Principle29).

Therefore, the ICJ calls for the case to be reconsidered on appeal in accordance with the clear terms of Article 33.11 of the Law on Advocates Activity and Legal Aid, and in light of the rights of lawyers to exercise their freedom of expression and association including through participation in organisations of lawyers and through criticism of legislation affecting the profession.

The ICJ further calls on the Ministry of Justice to end pressure on the active members of the Bar Association for legitimate exercise of their rights and duties as lawyers in accordance with the national legislation and international human rights standards and law.

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