Lawyers at Risk
Our Lawyers at Risk programme supports lawyers and human rights defenders who are hindered in carrying out their professional duties through:
- disciplinary measures
- arbitrary arrest, detention, and prosecution
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 the Lawyers at Risk core group of law firms that are members of the Law Society.
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.
Human rights statements, submissions and reports
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.
We took part in the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council, held between 11 September to 13 October 2023, by issuing joint statements on:
- the deteriorating situation for female lawyers and human rights defenders in Afghanistan (PDF 200 KB)
- the systematic arbitrary detention of human rights lawyers and defenders in China (PDF 148 KB)
- systematic restrictions and repressive actions against human rights lawyers in Russia (PDF 173 KB)
- the harassment and targeting of lawyers in Myanmar (PDF 218 KB)
We also released a joint statement during the interactive dialogue with the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances highlighting the risk of enforced disappearance for lawyers and human rights defenders globally.
We made a universal periodic review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Afghanistan, focusing on:
- the collapse of the legal system
- the laws and regulations undermining the independence of the legal profession, and
- the systemic persecution of lawyers, prosecutors and judges
We released 4 joint statements to the UN Human Rights Council on:
- the Universal Periodic Review Outcomes of Guatemala
- the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment of lawyers in Iran for the Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran
- the ongoing pattern of arrests and attacks against lawyers and human rights defenders for the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
- the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment of lawyers in Myanmar for the Interactive Dialogue on the Written Update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
We made a universal periodic review (UPR) report to the UN Human Rights Council on China, focusing on the lack of judicial independence, the laws and regulations undermining the independence of the legal profession, and the systemic persecution of lawyers.
We made an oral statement, as part of the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, focusing on the arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment of lawyers in Iran.
We also released three joint statements as part of this session, focusing on:
In March, we released a statement on detained lawyers in Iran (PDF 135 KB).
We have also released four joint statements to UN Human Rights Council on:
- our grave concerns for members of the legal profession - particularly women - in Afghanistan (PDF 294 KB)
- our condemnation of the targeting of lawyers in Iran and the non-compliance with the right to a fair trial (PDF 313 KB)
- our condemnation of the lack of judicial independence and other fair trial guarantees, as well as criminal prosecution of human rights defenders, in Belarus (PDF 418 KB)
- our concerns at the persistent and pervasive attacks on the legal profession and legal institutions in Venezuela (PDF 198 KB)
We also made a universal periodic review (UPR) report to the UN Human Rights Council on Azerbaijan, focusing on lack of guarantees to exercise the legal profession independently and lack of compliance with European Court of Human Rights judgments.
At least 23 lawyers have been arrested and detained in the last month, in detention conditions that remain inadequate and inhuman. We are also alarmed by the many human rights defenders who have been arrested.
We called on the Iranian authorities to, inter alia:
- immediately and unconditionally release all lawyers and human rights defenders
- guarantee psychological and physical integrity
- ensure access to legal representation
- ensure respect for fair trial guarantees
- guarantee that lawyers and human rights defenders can carry out their professional duties without intimidation, hindrance or improper interference
Read our evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Afghanistan
The UK Foreign Affairs Committee published a damning report – Missing in action: UK leadership and the withdrawal from Afghanistan – which repeatedly cites Law Society evidence on almost all points of concern mentioned.
We submitted evidence on Afghanistan to the committee in December 2021. It summarised:
- our activities regarding legal professionals at risk in Afghanistan
- our main concerns regarding UK government’s actions and policies in the aftermath of the Taliban’s capture of Kabul
Law Society activities
- Referring cases of legal professionals at risk to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) special cases unit
- Referring cases for alternative evacuation routes
- Carrying out advocacy before UK government departments (FCDO, Ministry of Justice and Home Office) on Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS), and visa/entry requirements
- Advocacy at the UN Human Rights Council and UN Special Procedures
- Engagement with media on ACRS delay and legal professionals at risk (The Observer; Radio 4 – Today programme)
- Coordination with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and foreign bar associations and law societies
Law Society concerns
- U-turn on the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP)
- Delay to the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS)
- Possible U-turn on ACRS
- Lack of clarity on process of ACRS (including impossibility to apply or self-refer)
- Possible undue restrictiveness in requirements under ACRS
- Lack of immigration status and support for Afghan legal professionals who arrived in the UK
- Lack of direct engagement by FCDO with Afghan legal professionals at risk
- Lack of inter-departmental coordination on Afghanistan
- Lack of ambition in UK diplomacy on accountability for Taliban’s human rights violations
Read our submission in a wiretapping case – Members of José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) v Colombia
In this case, the lawyers’ collective and former members of that collective argue that Colombia has violated their rights and their family members’ rights by, among other things, intercepting telephone conversations.
This is the first case in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has an opportunity to establish and develop the principle of independence of the legal profession in its case law (understood as the ability of lawyers to practise their profession freely, without undue interference).
We're alarmed by the demise of the rule of law in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s unlawful armed takeover of the country in August 2021 and its forcible takeover of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association in November 2021.
International Fair Trial Day 2022
Everyone has the right to a fair trial. Each year in June, we join with international bar associations and human rights groups to celebrate International Fair Trial Day.
This year’s event focused on Egypt. It took place between 17 and 18 June 2022 in Palermo, Italy.
We made joint statements to the UN Human Rights Council concerning:
- continued human rights violations in Venezuela (PDF 172 KB)
- human rights violations in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath (PDF 281 KB)
- administration of justice in Afghanistan, including lack of access to legal assistance, fair trials, and remedies for victims of rights violations, particularly women, girls, and minorities (PDF 246 KB)
- ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar, intensified following the coup (PDF 362 KB)
- our call for the government of Tanzania to implement recommendations made in relation to the protection of human rights defenders, including lawyers (PDF 152 KB)
We issued multiple joint statements outlining our concerns, and calling on the UN Human Rights Council to take action to defend the rule of law in Belarus, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Myanmar, Colombia, China, and the Philippines.
We made a joint oral statement concerning the persecution and repression of legal professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents in Belarus.
We urged the UN Human Rights Council to call on Iran and Turkey to release all those detained for performing their lawful work as lawyers and human rights defenders.
We made a joint statement on the Philippines to UN Human Rights Council. We urged the UN Human Rights Council to collect and preserve evidence of serious human rights violations in the Philippines.
We made a joint statement on Myanmar, Colombia and China to the UN Human Rights Council. We're concerned by the lack of effective engagement with the universal periodic review process by Myanmar, Colombia, China.
We presented a statement on Tanzania to state representatives at the United Nations, as well as NGOs, as part of the universal periodic review (UPR) pre-sessions.
We urged Egyptian authorities to release Mohamed el Baqer, an Egyptian lawyer who had spent the past two years in pre-trial detention without having been charged or proceedings against him having commenced.
We made a joint statement on Iran to the UN Human Rights Council about the arbitrary arrests and detention of lawyers and others sentenced to exorbitant prison terms for legitimately carrying out their professional activities.
We made a joint statement on Venezuela to the UN Human Rights Council concerning the ongoing efforts of the Venezuelan government to undermine the separation of powers and ensure a lack of judicial independence of courts across the country.
We wrote to the ambassador of Myanmar with concerns about the military coup that took place in Myanmar and the violent repression of protesters.
We delivered an oral statement with Lawyers for Lawyers on the situation of lawyers in Belarus to the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the use of our special consultative status.
Together with Lawyers for Lawyers, we wrote a letter to the president of the Republic of Belarus about the arrest and detention of lawyers Maksim Znak and Illia Salei in Belarus.
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 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.
Together with 13 other bar associations and organisations, we also submitted a report for the universal periodic review of Turkey to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report gathered evidence on the situation of lawyers, judges and prosecutors in Turkey since the end of 2015. It documented an increase in the number of arrests, detentions and convictions of lawyers, judges and prosecutors.
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 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 gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the rule of law and human rights in South America.
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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