Human rights

Supporting UN principles to protect endangered lawyers

Lawyers and their judicial independence are currently under attack. This year, our International Human Rights Day seminar focused on the importance of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the independence of the legal profession.

Black and white photo of chair in derelict underpass - lit dramatically from above by skylight

Justice and lawyers under attack

Issues such as intimidation and physical violence against lawyers urgently need to be addressed, according to both the UN Human Rights Committee and African Commission on Human Rights.

Countries like Turkey, the Philippines, Poland, Hungary, Bangalore, Zimbabwe and Belarus are just a few countries in urgent need.

In India, legal aid lawyers lack enough funding to put up a sufficient defence and ensure access to justice. This allows injustice and inequality to permeate the system.

The tragic situation in Afghanistan has seen a limited humanitarian response, which deeply concerns us.

The Taliban takeover has specifically targeted 6,000 innocent lawyers – at least 1,300 of them are women (who are at particular risk of violence, simply due to their gender).

One known female lawyer has been murdered and two have been tortured.

Very few have managed to seek refuge abroad, the vast majority remain in Afghanistan, but speakers at our recent seminar congratulated the steps the Law Society has taken on this issue.

We've supported efforts to immediately evacuate women judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

We've also called on the UK government to ensure that lawyers, judges and those that have worked to safeguard the rule of law are included in the resettlement scheme or Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

However, we’re concerned that the current target to offer sanctuary in the UK to Afghans in the first year of the scheme will not be sufficient to protect all those in imminent danger.

Read more about our work on Afghanistan

UN action to protect justice

A report on the endangerment of lawyers is being prepared by Diego García-Sayán, UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

The report aims to provide an international account of the physical and non-physical attacks on lawyers’ independence worldwide.

It will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council and offers a unique opportunity to address the situation of lawyers globally.

A questionnaire has also been published on recent experiences of lawyers and the special rapporteur is leading conversations in this area.

In countries like Brazil, violating a human right can result in imprisonment from three months to a year.

Other protected rights include:

  • Protection of place of work – authorities need permission to enter places of work
  • Power of attorney – lawyers or those with power of attorney must be granted access to a case

Read the UN’s basic principles on the role of lawyers

How to support lawyers in danger

Our recent seminar was centred around research carried out by the Law Society and Slaughter and May, and focused on the following jurisdictions: the UK, Germany, France, Georgia, Jordan, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Kenya, the US, Brazil, Colombia and Chile.

Three key criteria were identified as integral to ensuring justice:

  • access to a lawyer
  • an independent judiciary
  • client confidentiality

Law societies and their members can play a key role – alongside the UN special rapporteur – by raising these issues consistently and industry wide, to ensure they are prioritised.

Access to justice is a gateway to a peaceful and fair society for present and future generations.

All bodies must work together to protect lawyers’ rights so that justice and equality are upheld.

To find out more, you can watch a recording of the full seminar below.

Watch our seminar  

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