Afghanistan dispatch: new Taliban bar exam procedures — and the notable absence of new women attorneys
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Afghanistan dispatch: new Taliban bar exam procedures — and the notable absence of new women attorneys

Law students and lawyers in Afghanistan are filing reports with JURIST on the situation on the ground since the Taliban takeover. Here, a young lawyer in Kabul reports on the complications Taliban governance has wrought for young lawyers wishing to regain their rights to practice in the country. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding our correspondent’s name. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.

The Afghanistan Independent Bar Association was merged with the Taliban’s Ministry of Justice right after they seized power in August last year. The Taliban merged the bar association into the Ministry of Justice’s organizational framework as a general directorate, despite efforts by several advocacy groups to protect the bar association’s independence.

The organization of the ministry has been expanded to include the bar directorate, and a procedure was later created to govern its daily operations. In accordance to this procedure, in order to practice law in Afghanistan, every licensed attorney is required to pass a new evaluation exam.

To assess the legal and Islamic knowledge of attorneys who are interested in taking the test and obtaining a new license, a new testing mechanism was established.

The exam was divided into two main components that tested applicants’ legal and Islamic knowledge, respectively. Although the major purpose of the exam was to assess applicants’ understanding of Islam, the testing committee also posed questions about business laws, the penal code, arbitration, inheritance law, and other topics.

In accordance with the new procedure, a committee comprising five members — mainly appointed on the basis of their knowledge of Islamic law — is appointed to evaluate an attorney who shows interest in obtaining a new license to practice law. The procedure does not limit gender diversity for obtaining a legal license but unfortunately, no female attorneys have yet been given a license. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has not made any apparent effort to inspire female lawyers to obtain new licenses.

The result of the second round of the evaluation test can be accessed here.

I have interviewed two attorneys who succeeded in the last two exams under the new Taliban protocol, and below are the details they provided regarding the new testing procedures:

Question: Did you have a license to practice law previously?

Answer: Yes, I did.

Question: Did you represent any clients in court proceedings prior to taking and passing the new bar exam?

Answer: No. I was unable to do so. For a short period of time we were given the permit to continue based on our old license but during that period the judicial and prosecution agencies were largely inactive.

Question: How did you apply to obtain the new license?

Answer: I wrote a request letter to the Ministry of Justice. The letter was submitted to the Chief of Staff of the Ministry and once I received the requisite signatures, I received authorization to take the evaluation. The test date was then announced on the ministry’s website and applicants were called for the evaluation test.

Question: How was the exam conducted?

Answer: There is a committee of five authorized members in the evaluation room. They have a list of subjects from which they ask prepared questions. The evaluation room is equipped with cameras.

Question: Were you able to identify any female attorneys who came for the evaluation test?

Answer: No. There were no female applicants.

Question: Why do you think no female lawyers were in attendance?

Answer: There are a number of significant reasons why female lawyers are unable to attend the test. In particular, most women fear participating and practicing within the Taliban’s judicial and prosecution agencies and many are discouraged from working as lawyers in the country. Generally speaking, the Taliban’s mentality toward gender roles in education and professional life has caused women not to attend the evaluation test.

Question: What sorts of religious questions you were asked?

Answer: The test was on basic Islamic issues such as specific procedures as related court hearings, and issues like praying five times a day. Those with the greatest awareness of Islamic rules and principles seemed to have better opportunities to obtain their new law licenses.