State intends to tighten control over barristers
March 15, 2014 a pre-election report conference of members of the Minsk City Bar Association will take place in Minsk. Its agenda includes amendments and supplements to the Charter of Bar Association (concerning the disciplinary committee) and the Regulation on Disciplinary Commission. There are reasons to believe that the adoption of these amendments and supplements will make lawyers more dependent on the state. The barristers are offered to limit the frames of their legal activities with their own hands.
The "optimization" of the advocacy has been actively discussed everywhere in recent months. In December 2013 in Minsk there was held a republican conference "Advocacy and legal services at the present stage", which was held by the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the National Bar Association and with representatives of the Presidential Administration, the General Prosecutor's Office and other state agencies. Invited to the meeting were members of the Council of the National Bar Association, heads of the territorial bar associations and their deputies, members of the board of each territorial bar association, heads of the disciplinary and audit commissions and heads of the methodical councils of the territorial boards.
Opening the conference, the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Belarus A. Slizheuski expressed concern about violations of law in the exercise of advocacy and invited the audience to discuss ways to solve this problem.
Deputy Minister of Justice A. Badak informed the participants about the preparation by the Ministry of Justice of a new regulation to determine the procedure for handling complaints against lawyers' actions by the disciplinary commissions and the procedure for appealing decisions of the disciplinary commissions.
Report and election meetings have already taken place at five regional Bar Associations (Vitsebsk, Mahiliou, Homel, Hrodna and Minsk). Most likely, their Charters have been amended and the Regulation on the disciplinary commission has been approved in the new edition. Apparently, the amendments and supplements concerning disciplinary action, elaborated by the Ministry of Justice, were adopted by the regional lawyers unconditionally.
Minsk lawyers still have the opportunity to resist these novelties at their report and election meeting which will be held March 15, as many lawyers who will take part in the conference aren't even aware of the essence of the proposed amendments and supplements.
Earlier, issues of disciplinary liability of lawyers were governed by the Law of the Republic of Belarus " On Advocacy", which gives sweeping powers to the Ministry of Justice in this area. No amendments and supplements were introduced in this law. Most probably, the development of new provisions concerning the disciplinary liability of lawyers indicates an increase in the state control over their activities on the eve of the presidential elections in 2015. The state seems to be looking for an easy mechanism to prosecute "undesirable" lawyers, reminding of the unprecedented repression of Belarusian lawyers connected to the events on Nezalezhnasts Square on December 19, 2010, when the lawyers defending the participants of the peaceful protest were denied licenses. We remember that in this period the Ministry of Justice also conducted extensive audits and extraordinary certification of lawyers, handed down dozens of regulations and initiated disciplinary proceedings. The new Law "On Advocacy", adopted afterwards, virtually deprived Belarusian lawyers of independence from the state.
Today, the legal community is proposed a pig in a poke under the disguise of changes and amendments to the Regulations on the disciplinary commission. These novelties haven't been discussed with the public, though there are great fears that the new provisions will lay down yet more stringent mechanisms (in particular, mechanisms of drawing lawyers to liability) than the ones laid down in the Law “On Advocacy” following the events of December 2010." After the adoption of these new provisions the disciplinary commissions may lose their final right to decide whether a lawyer is guilty of certain violation. If this right is delegated to officials from the Ministry of Justice or the Bar – the disciplinary commission of the Bar Association will become an absolutely impotent, decorative body, increasing the vulnerability of Belarusian lawyers. It will make the implementation of citizens' right to protection by an independent lawyer even more problematic.