The government of Turkey stands accused of a systematic attack on the role of lawyers in a major report by an international human rights body today. The Human Rights Watch report, Lawyers on Trial, catalogues the measures taken by the Turkish authorities against lawyers acting for terrorist suspects since the failed military coup in July 2016. 

More than 1,000 lawyers have been prosecuted and several hundred held in prolonged pretrial detention in what the report describes as a 'major assault on the right to a fair trial and on the role of lawyers in the administration of justice'.

Lawyers known for defending leftist or Kurdish clients, or families of victims of crimes perpetrated by state officials, have been targeted with prosecution, the report states. Mass trials involving multiple lawyer defendants, including heads of local bar associations, are taking place in at least eight provinces in Turkey.

According to the report, lawyers’ privileged communication with clients in pretrial detention for terrorism offenses has been effectively abolished. Lawyers can also be barred from acting for a client facing a terrorism investigation for up to two years if they themselves are under investigation for terrorism. 

'Putting hundreds of lawyers in jail and on trial, and restricting their ability to act for people in police custody and in court, shows the dire state of Turkey’s criminal justice system and should be of grave concern to everyone in Turkey and internationally,' said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 'Lawyers are central guarantors of the right to a fair trial and Turkey’s willingness to flout it over the past three years is deeply alarming.'

Writing in the Gazette today, the chair of the Law Society's human rights committee, Tony Fisher, calls on the international profession to support persecuted colleagues in Turkey.