A European convention outlining both the obligations and rights of lawyers could take a step closer today as a Council of Europe body prepares to vote on whether to draft an agreement.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), made up of members of parliament from the council’s 47 member states, are discussing a convention on the profession of lawyer at a meeting in Strasbourg. 

Legal professional bodies are backing the idea. The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) said the convention, if approved, should focus on legal professional privilege and the independence of legal professions and their representative bodies. It should emphasise the obligations on national authorities to respect and protect the free exercise of the profession and to promote the profession’s role in ensuring the effectiveness of the judicial system, protecting human rights and the rule of law.

PACE rapporteur, Sabien Lahaye Battheu, said a string of attacks on lawyers has taken place in the past 12 months alone. They include police raids on the home of a Greek lawyer representing Syrian refugees a Georgian lawyer being assaulted by a chief of police after giving advice to his client. Last year, hundreds of lawyers were detained after the failed coup in Turkey.

Chair of the barristers’ profession in England and Wales Andrew Walker QC said ’hard international law’ is needed to protect lawyers who are subject to threats and attacks from state agencies and individuals.

‘In the last two years we have seen a slew of attacks on legal professionals. These are often carried out by state actors attempting to prevent lawyers from doing the crucial job of enforcing the legal and human rights of their citizens and of holding Governments to account,’ he said. ‘We are urging the 18 UK MPs and peers who sit in the Parliamentary Assembly to vote in favour of drawing up this convention. We would like to see the UK continue to take the lead in upholding it on the world stage, and to use its influence at an international level to foster agreement and clarity on what the rule of law means and how it can be sustained in practice.’

Commenting on lawyers targeted for upholding justice, Law Society president Joe Egan stressed that lawyers must be allowed to carry out their professional duties without interference and should never be identified with their clients or clients' causes. The country focus for the Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2018 is Egypt, where lawyers and human rights defenders face prosecution and travel bans for carrying out their professional duties. Some have been imprisoned for extended periods of time. 

An event will be held at Chancery Lane tonight.


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