Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe addresses Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau concerning violations of the right to defense

2011 2011-02-02T17:59:01+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Dear Mr. Golovanov,

I am writing  to you on behalf of  the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) which  represents  around  one million  European  lawyers  through  its member  bars  and  law societies from 31 full member countries, and 11 further associate and observer countries.  Among the most important of the CCBE's missions are the defence of the rule of law, human rights and democratic values. We place great emphasis on the rights of access to justice and the protection of the client by ensuring respect for the core values of the lawyer’s profession. We are therefore deeply concerned about recent developments in Belarus which have been brought to our attention:

a)  Access  to  lawyers and  legal services – we have  learned  that since 20 December 2010 over 700 people – participants in the demonstration on the presidential election in Minsk – have been detained on either criminal or administrative charges. Many of those detained have asked  for  legal assistance. However,  in a number of cases  the detainees  have  not  been  able  to meet  their  lawyers  at  all. We  have  also  received information  that  the  lawyers  have been prevented  from meeting with  their clients  in private. 

In this context, the CCBE wishes to draw to your attention the following Articles of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990): 

Article  7  states  that: Governments  shall  further  ensure  that  all  persons  arrested  or detained, with or without criminal charge, shall have prompt access to a lawyer and in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time of arrest or detention.

Furthermore, Article 8 states  that: All arrested, detained or  imprisoned persons shall be  provided with  adequate  opportunities,  time  and  facilities  to  be  visited  by  and  to communicate and consult with a lawyer, without delay, interception or censorship and in  full  confidentiality.  Such  consultations  may  be  within  sight,  but  not  within  the hearing, of law enforcement officials.

The above-mentioned difficulties for the detainees to receive assistance of a lawyer at all  or  to  receive  it  adequately  (in  terms  of  time,  facilities  and  the  respect  of  the confidentiality principle) are in our view contrary to international standards. The CCBE urges  the Ministry of Justice  to eliminate any obstacles  regarding access  to  lawyers and  legal services  throughout all proceedings. We would  like  to emphasize  that  the European Parliament  in its resolution of 20 January 2011 on  the situation  in Belarus also  called  on  the  Belarusian  authorities  to  provide  unhindered  access  for  the detainees to legal assistance.

b)  Guarantees for the functioning of lawyers and freedom of expression – we have learned  that  lawyers,  through  the  media,  have  informed  the  public  about  several severe  problems  the  detainees  are  facing,  particularly  regarding  access  to  legal assistance, circumstances of detention, conditions of custody and delays  in medical care. We have also been informed that the Ministry of Justice has been critical about these  lawyers’  communication  with media.  As  a  result,  the Ministry  of  Justice  has notified  the  lawyers of  the possibility of  their  losing  their  licence (notwithstanding  the fact  that  these  lawyers,  by  disseminating  the  above-mentioned  information  to  the public, have not breached any  law, or standards and ethics of  the  legal profession).

This  threat  of  being  debarred  has  also  been  raised  in  the  European  Parliament resolution of 20 January 2011 on the situation in Belarus. In this context, the CCBE wishes to draw to your attention the following Articles of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990):  Article 16 states  that: Governments shall ensure  that  lawyers (a) are able to perform all  of  their  professional  functions  without  intimidation,  hindrance,  harassment  or improper  interference; (..) and (c) shall not suffer, or be  threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics. 

Furthermore, Article 23 states that: Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of  expression,  belief,  association  and  assembly.  In  particular,  they  shall  have  the rights  to  take  part  in  public  discussion  of  matters  concerning  the  law,  the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organisations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in  a  lawful  organisation.  In  exercising  these  rights,  lawyers  shall  always  conduct themselves  in accordance with  the  law and  the  recognised standards and ethics of the legal profession.

It  is  clearly  stated  that  lawyers  are  entitled  to  disseminate  information  on  the administration of justice and human rights issues in accordance with the law, and the recognised standards and ethics of the legal profession, and, by doing so, the lawyers shall  not  be  threatened with  any  sanctions  by  any  institution.  The CCBE  urges  the Ministry  of  Justice  to  guarantee  the  lawyers’  activities  in  this  sphere  without  any improper interference.

c)  Independence  of  professional  associations  of  lawyers  and  impartiality  of disciplinary  proceedings  –  we  have  been  informed  that  legal  assistance  for  the detainees was mainly  provided  by  lawyers  of  the Minsk City Bar.  From  the  end  of December 2010 until the beginning of January 2011, the Ministry of Justice has sent requests  to  the  Minsk  City  Bar  raising  a  question  about  initiating  disciplinary proceedings  against  these  lawyers. Since  no  breaches  of  the  law  and  professional ethical  rules  in  the  actions  of  these  lawyers  were  found,  the  Minsk  City  Bar  has refused  to  initiate any disciplinary proceedings. Recently  the Ministry of Justice has sent new  requests and according  to  information  received, also  the new  requests  to initiate  disciplinary  proceedings  against  lawyers  have  been  dismissed  by  the Minsk City  Bar.  In  addition, we  have  also  been  informed  that  the Ministry  of  Justice  has declared its intention to amend the existing professional ethical rules.

In this context, the CCBE wishes to draw to your attention the following Articles of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990):  Article  24  states  that:  Lawyers  shall  be  entitled  to  form  and  join  self-governing professional  associations  to  represent  their  interests,  promote  their  continuing education and training and protect  their professional  integrity. The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by  its members and shall exercise  its functions without external interference. Furthermore, Article 28 states  that: Disciplinary proceedings against  lawyers shall be brought before an impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession, before an  independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall be subject  to an independent judicial review. 

Taking  into  account  the  recent  actions  carried  out  by  the  Ministry  of  Justice,  the CCBE  urges  you  to  guarantee  the  principle  of  independence  of  professional associations  of  lawyers  (Minsk  City  Bar  in  particular)  and  subsequently  also  the impartiality principle of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers.

In view of  the above, we urge you  to guarantee  full  respect  for  the  international standards envisaged in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990), in particular regarding adequate access to lawyers and legal services, freedom of expression of lawyers, independence  of  professional  associations  of  lawyers  and  impartiality  of  disciplinary proceedings.

Yours sincerely,

Georges-Albert Dal

CCBE President

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