The ICJ welcomes the decision of Ukraine’s High Qualification-Disciplinary Commission to reinstate Larisa Gerasko, a lawyer previously disbarred because of her involvement in seeking to register a local lawyers’ association.
Following a hearing on 21 June, which was attended by ICJ Commissioner Gulnora Ishankhanova, the High Qualification-Disciplinary Commission (HQDC) found that there were no valid grounds for disbarment.
The decision of the HQDC came in the context of a series of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers in Ukraine, which followed a law on “Advokatura and Lawyers’ Activities” adopted in 2012.
“Following the enactment of the new law, two parallel structures of self-governance of the legal profession were established, only one of which was registered,” said Gulnora Ishankhanova. “As a result of the conflict, disciplinary sanctions have been initiated against a number of lawyers on the grounds of organization and participation in ‘an alternative congress’ as well as other related and unrelated grounds.”
The ICJ commissioner visited Kiev on 20-22 June to examine the situation and meet with the main stakeholders including lawyers subjected to disciplinary action, relevant bodies of the Association of Lawyers and the HQDC and NGO representatives.
On 21 June, she observed disciplinary hearings against several lawyers including Larisa Gerasko, who had been disbarred on the grounds of submitting documents for state registration of a lawyers’ association of Zakarpatk Region, and Roman Martynovsky, a member of the HQDC, whose status as a lawyer was suspended for a period of six months for non-attendance of one meeting of this body.
The decision regarding lawyer Martynovsky was postponed until the following meeting of the HQDC.
“We are concerned that disciplinary action remains pending in a number of cases against lawyers involved in the creation of the unregistered lawyers’ association, the National Association of Lawyers,” Gulnora Ishankhanova added.
The ICJ recalls that, according to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, “all disciplinary proceedings shall be determined in accordance with the code of professional conduct and other recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession and in the light of these principles”.
Disciplinary action against a lawyer may only be initiated for violations of published standards of professional conduct, and any disciplinary sanctions must be proportionate to the offence committed.
Where a disciplinary system allows for practically any form of conduct to be construed by the responsible disciplinary body as grounds sufficient for disbarment, the sanction is likely to be arbitrary and to violate international human rights law.
The ICJ expresses its gratitude to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the HQDC and others who facilitated or co-operated with the mission.
The ICJ will continue to monitor developments in the ongoing disciplinary action against lawyers in Ukraine and will in due course publish a more detailed report on the visit to Ukraine with recommendations.
Róisín Pillay, Director, ICJ Europe Programme: +41 22 979 3830; e-mail: roisin.pillay(a)icj.org
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