02 April 2021 of the year

Protection of the rights of lawyers

Olga Prosyanyuk
and Vitaly Serdyuk
"Legal practice"

The voice of the legal profession has always sounded about the violation of its professional rights. Quieter periods, periods when the pressure increased and reached a critical point, louder, as it is now. My colleagues and I have always been actively involved in conducting searches of lawyers’ offices or their homes to protect professional rights. But for myself, I single out several key points that have determined my current activity for the legal profession. In 2014, the unofficial slogan of the legal profession was the phrase “For a lawyer – the right to defense.” Then we actively defended our fellow lawyer Denis Bugai, and this case became a test for the entire legal profession, since it directly influenced its independence. And it was the active position in accompanying the case, the creation of conditions for the observance of legislative norms by all parties to the process that contributed to the restoration of professional rights. It was a powerful demonstration to opponents how strong the advocacy is.

In 2016, a round table of the Ukrainian Bar Association was held, dedicated to the issues of massive violations of rights and guarantees of advocacy. It was then that the idea was first voiced to create an Initiative Group for the Protection of the Rights of Advocates, in which I act as a coordinator, by representatives of lawyers’ self-government bodies, specialized organizations and interested lawyers. Every year, the trend of pressure on lawyers only intensifies, and the methods become more aggressive. Realizing that national instruments for the protection of professional rights may not be enough, our partners and I began to actively draw the attention of the international community to this issue.

At one of these meetings, I received an offer to prepare and further disseminate the analyzed and summarized information. Therefore, in the spring of this year, we began to conduct a study of violations of the rights of lawyers for the period from the beginning of 2016 to March 2018 and presented it in early September. The International Society for the Defense of Human Rights – the Ukrainian Section, the National Bar Association of Ukraine, in particular, the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Lawyers and Guarantees of Advocate Activity, the Odessa Region Bar Council, the Ukrainian Bar Association, the Ukrainian Bar Association and practicing lawyers took an active part in the study. The main goal of the study is to draw attention to threatening trends in the field of observance of the rights of lawyers and guarantees of their advocacy, as well as to motivate lawyers who are silent about such cases in their practice, are not afraid to talk and act in defense of their rights, so that those interested in their violation do not could achieve what they wanted.


What are the main trends in violations of the rights of lawyers now?

The study showed how much more aggressive the methods of pressure on lawyers have become. Today, the following violations of the rights of lawyers are most common:


  • identification of a lawyer with a client: detention of lawyers, pressure from politicians and the public;
  • extrajudicial instruments of influence:murders, attacks, property damage, threats;
  • criminal and disciplinary harassment or threats of retaliation: involvement of a lawyer as a witness, searches, initiation of criminal proceedings against lawyers or bringing to disciplinary responsibility for lawful actions;
  • denying lawyers access to their clients and removing them from the process: failure to fulfill obligations to bring a client to participate in a court hearing, abuse of the right to attract lawyers who provide free secondary legal aid;
  • violation of the basic principles of legal proceedings: concealment of evidence, obstruction of the interrogation of witnesses, lack of the possibility of confidential communication with the client.


It should be noted that in the recent period, extrajudicial instruments of influence have been used especially often. 34 cases of violence against lawyers were officially registered, of which five were murders and two attempted murders. Cases of opening criminal proceedings against advocates with an active position are rapidly spreading. Attempts to weaken the legal profession at the legislative level are becoming more frequent. Increasingly, the state is trying to use lawyers from the institute of free aid to resolve its departmental issues. Through illegal manipulations, a free lawyer is introduced into the case instead of a lawyer under the contract, who acts against the interests of the client, which makes it easier for the law enforcement agency to resolve procedural issues related to the prosecution of a certain person.

The situation has become so critical in connection with the feeling of complete impunity for those who violate the rights of lawyers. Therefore, there is an urgent need to apply international protection instruments.


Is there international support for the protection of the rights of lawyers?

This issue is dealt with by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Just at the first meeting with UN representatives, a proposal was made to conduct a study and present it for further inclusion in the commissioner’s report. The next meeting on this issue took place in Geneva (Switzerland) within the framework of the 38th session of the UN Council, which was attended by the representative of the Special Procedures Division of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Stefano Sensi. The meeting with him turned out to be especially productive, since, based on its results, it was decided that it was necessary to submit appropriate individual complaints and respond by the speaker through official appeals to Ukraine. The possibility of his arrival in Ukraine was also considered, which happened some time later. While in Ukraine, he received individual complaints from my colleagues about gross violations of the rights of lawyers.

Senior partner Vitaly Serdyuk and I announced the results of the study to representatives of US government agencies, MEPs, representatives of the UN and OSCE Monitoring Missions in Ukraine, human rights organizations in Europe and the United States, and also presented them to colleagues at international human rights conferences.

Many promised to discuss and respond to the facts of pressure on lawyers, drawing the attention of competent government and human rights organizations in their countries to problem situations.


Where do you see the risks for lawyers and law firms?

Despite the existing negative consequences of violation of the professional rights of lawyers, this may affect the emergence of additional risks both for the lawyers themselves and for the law firms of which they are representatives. For a lawyer, such an additional risk may be the deprivation of a certificate of the right to practice law or an attempt on the safety of the family. And if the lawyer being prosecuted is the head of a law firm, then the risks could spread to the company as well. These can be reputational risks, attacks on all clients of the company, seizure of bank accounts, attempts to conduct searches and / or seizure of documents, initiating criminal proceedings against several or all of the company’s leaders, including charges of creating an organized criminal group, or unpredictable team behavior. perhaps even to the detriment of the company.

In order to be prepared for such situations, although we, of course, hope that this will not happen, we and our partners have prepared a number of questions, the elaboration of which can significantly reduce possible risks:


  • What are the possible scenarios for blocking the work of a law firm, based on the degree of risk?
  • What scenarios is the team ready for, does it know the necessary behaviors?
  • Which of your colleagues can you quickly contact?
  • How will further work on the projects be carried out?
  • Who and what processes will be in charge in the absence of a managing partner / partner?
  • Who from the team will stay, and who will have to say goodbye to if necessary?
  • What is the salary of the employees for this period (you must always have the firm’s subsistence minimum for six months)?
  • Do you have a “military package” with instructions and passwords? Who has it?
  • Whom to contact with crisis PR?

In our practice, preliminary training, an active position and the absence of fear to defend and defend violated rights, including professional ones, even in the most crisis situations contribute to resisting pressure on lawyers.

I hope that further active joint actions in this direction will strengthen the position and independence of the legal profession!

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