Rule of law

Lawyers at Risk

Our Lawyers at Risk programme supports lawyers and human rights defenders who are hindered in carrying out their professional duties through:

  • threats
  • intimidation
  • disciplinary measures
  • arbitrary arrest, detention, and prosecution
  • disappearance
  • murder

We provide support by sending letters to state authorities about specific cases, and we carry out more substantive and strategic work to improve lawyers’ safety.

We submit briefs to domestic high courts and international tribunals to change legislation and practices that pose a threat to the independence of the legal profession and are detrimental to the effective functioning of the judicial system. We also carry out trial observations in different countries to support lawyers at risk.

Our aims

The programme aims to:

  • raise awareness of the risks and challenges associated with being a lawyer
  • highlight the importance of an independent legal profession
  • foster professional solidarity with colleagues abroad

We collaborate with a network of non-governmental organisations, international institutions, state agencies and bar associations for advocacy and follow-up on interventions and submissions.

Our intervention tracker compiles data and helps us to analyse regional trends of intimidation and identify places where the independence of the legal profession is particularly threatened.

We use our Economic and Social Council status with the United Nations (UN) to make submissions to the UN:

  • Human Rights Council
  • treaty bodies
  • special rapporteurs

The programme is supported by our International Action Team (IAT), a volunteer group of practising and retired solicitors, as well as the Lawyers at Risk core group of law firms that are members of the Law Society.

What we’re doing

We called for interventions by UN and inter-American rapporteurs to safeguard a lawyer who has been subject to threats against his life on social media.

We wrote a joint letter to the Iranian authorities with Lawyers for Lawyers and Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada about the continued detention and precarious health situation of two human rights lawyers in Iran.

We urged the Turkish authorities to release approximately 55 lawyers and trainee lawyers arrested in Ankara and asked the president of Zimbabwe to abstain from any actions that interfere with lawyers' ability to carry out their professional functions.

We wrote to the president of Belarus to express our concern about threats to the independence of the legal profession and access to justice in the aftermath of the presidential elections in Belarus on 6 August 2020.

We also made an urgent appeal to the Turkish authorities about the condition of two lawyers detained in Turkey who are on hunger strike.

We expressed our alarm at the adoption of the new national security law by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress in a joint letter with the Bar Council.

We wrote to the president of Poland to express our concerns again over a motion to waive a Polish judge's immunity.

We also urged the authorities in Pakistan to conduct an immediate, thorough, transparent, and independent investigation into the abduction of a Pakistani human rights defender.

We wrote a letter to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to draw attention to the exceptional threat posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to imprisoned lawyers in Turkey.

We received reports that the arrest of 10 Turkish lawyers may have related to work carried out as part of their professional duties. We urged the Turkish authorities to discontinue all acts of intimidation and harassment against these lawyers and other members of the legal profession in Turkey.

We also expressed our concerns that the Ankara Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal investigation into the Ankara Bar Association on the grounds of “openly disrespect[ing] the religious belief of a group” (article 126(3) of the Penal Code of Turkey).

We were interviewed by a Polish television news channel on our work to highlight threats to judicial independence in Poland. That work included sending a letter to Polish authorities about the National Prosecution Office’s motion to waive a judge’s immunity, paving the way for potential criminal prosecution.

We nominated five Egyptian lawyers in detention for the Human Rights Award of the Council of European Bars and Law Societies (CCBE) and sent a letter to the president of Egypt about charges brought against some of these lawyers.

We gave a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council on the treatment of lawyers and human rights defenders in Egypt and issued a joint resolution on the rule of law with European Bars and Law Societies.

We also sent a letter to the prime minister of India following the arrest and detention of the president of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association.

We wrote to the president of Poland following amendments to legislation that undermine judicial independence and the separation of powers and carried out advocacy with the Council of Europe.

We launched our 2019 intervention tracker, which shows that threats and harassment continue to be the most prevalent form of intimidation of lawyers in different jurisdictions.

We organised a seminar for the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, focusing on Pakistan.

We also wrote to the president of China to express our grave concerns about actions taken against several Chinese human rights lawyers.

We urged the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation to drop all charges against a human rights lawyer following his violent arrest.

We also sent an intervention letter to the president of Egypt about the arrest and enforced disappearance of a human rights lawyer.

We published a factsheet about the situation of lawyers in Turkey and carried out advocacy with State missions before the UN in Geneva.

We wrote to the president of Mexico expressing our concerns about the security situation of a lawyer and her colleagues working at the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre.

We also sent a letter to the president of Nepal about our concerns around the safety of a human rights defender and chair of the Collective Campaign for Peace.

We signed an international statement of solidarity with a murdered Dutch lawyer and wrote to the president of Colombia about death threats made to a lawyer who represents victims of serious human rights violations.

We published a factsheet with the Tahrir Institute on Middle East policy on the consolidation of authoritarianism in Egypt and spoke at a panel at the United Nations in Geneva on threats against judicial independence and harassment of lawyers and human rights defenders.

We co-signed a letter with 151 international and domestic bar associations to call on the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to stop attacks and extrajudicial killings of lawyers.

We joined 18 organisations to co-sign a letter to the administration of China challenging the revocation of a human rights lawyer’s license to practise.

We submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of lawyers in Turkey and coordinated an international coalition of legal organisations for this submission. We also carried out advocacy about this report with state missions before the UN in Geneva.

We wrote to Guatemala’s minister of interior and home affairs about death threats made to an indigenous leader and human rights defender.

We wrote a letter urging the president of Turkey to discontinue proceedings against a Turkish lawyer who defends dozens of journalists prosecuted for their work.

We also wrote to the head of the Iranian judiciary about Iran’s international legal obligations to make sure that lawyers and human rights defenders can carry out their professional functions without harassment or interference.

We sent a joint letter to four UN special rapporteurs on the arbitrary detention and long-term imprisonment of 18 lawyers in Turkey.

We gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the rule of law and human rights in South America.

We sent two letters to the Chinese authorities about the situation of Chinese lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Wang Quanzhang.

We also wrote to the head of the Iranian judiciary calling for the immediate release of Iranian lawyer and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh and led a joint effort by G7 Bars to advocate for such release.

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