Human rights abuse, poverty and threats to the rule of law are all likely to increase due to the global financial crisis - but lawyers can help to reduce the effects, a report for the International Bar Association has concluded.
It calls on lawyers across the world to form groups to pool expertise and resources in the effort to help people out of poverty. Now is the time for ‘serious discussion’ on how the law and lawyers can help the poor to help themselves throughout the world, the report says.
Positive measures could include simplifying laws which affect the poorest people in society, helping to sculpt tax laws that encourage social business and working with governments to remove trade conditions that favour the less powerful.
Firms have also played - and can continue to play - an important role through pro bono work in supporting communities and individuals as they face the challenges of financial crises and poverty.
On human rights, lawyers are at the forefront of exposing any abuses that result from financial pressures.
The report adds: 'Having said this, it is equally important that international human rights lawyers remain realistic and refrain from the temptation to become dogmatic. If a gulf develops between the politicians on the one hand and human rights lawyers on the other, the opportunity for much-needed constructive dialogue will be lost.'
The report also calls on governments not to ignore threats to rule of law when they create austerity measures in response to difficult economic times. Lawyers, it notes, have a resonsibility to do all they can to highlight any negative effects of budget cuts and hold legislators to account.
Cautioning against raising court fees as an austerity measure, the report says making justice through courts beyond the means of so many was an ‘unacceptable sacrifice’.
People are ‘left adrift’ if labour and employment rights are weakened by removing protective systems that make it easier for employers to lay off long-service employees, while basic values of society are also under threat when moral principles are given up for efficiency.
'We are then in danger of losing the delicate balance that is the very fundament of the rule of law, of the rule of fundamental rights and of a society that protects all its citizens at a minimum civilised level.'