Sharareh Abdolhoseinzadeh is a law student and a PhD in Political Sociology. She files this from Tehran.
A few days ago, the Iranian Parliament approved a plan that, if approved by the Guardian Council of the Constitution, would destroy the limited independence of the hundred-year-old Iranian Bar Association. According to this resolution, lawyers’ associations will henceforward be under the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and everything from the issuance to the revocation of a lawyer’s license will be done through the website of the Ministry of Economy.
This decree has caused protests by lawyers. The argument of the opponents of this resolution, reflected in the country’s 7th development plan, is that making lawyers dependent on a government institution is a violation of people’s rights. They also say that attaching lawyers’ associations to the Ministry of Economy is a violation of the separation of powers and a contradiction of the state’s general policies in judicial affairs.
In addition to the protests of lawyers in provinces such as Razavi Khorasan, South Khorasan, West Azabaijan , Yazd, etc., a campaign titled “Opposition to plans and bills against the independence of lawyers’ associations and judicial security” has been created that from August 29 to the writing of this dispatch has gained more than 24 thousand signatures. Lawyers are trying to prevent the final approval of the resolution by persuading the members of the Guardian Council to reject it as contrary to the Constitution, Sharia standards and other regulations.
The resolution fundamentally affects the independence of the legal profession. This is something that the Bar Association has tried to protect for years because it is necessary for a fair trial. The independence of the lawyer’s institution is the basic right of the nation, and a person who is under suspicion for any reason or whose rights are violated needs an independent lawyer. A lawyer must be a person who is not professionally affiliated with the government. Especially in security cases, a lawyer whose life and death is dependent on a government institution cannot defend his client completely and with courage and self-confidence, and the victim of this lack of independence is the client who was deprived of having an independent lawyer. If a lawyer is contacted by certain institutions to make him feel threatened, he will be worried that the license given by the government will be revoked.
Advocacy in Iran itself is already a source of stress for its practitioners. Now, in addition to worries caused by the job itself, we have to worry about suspension and annulment of the case. If we are brave enough, especially in large cases, it could lead to a lifetime of hardship. It might even lead to other consequences, including arrest and imprisonment.
Lawyers believe that entrusting the power of issuing and revoking lawyers’ licenses to the Ministry of Economy means the dissolution of the lawyers’ association. Now, if the authority of these matters is to be entrusted to an institution that is dependent on the government in any way, the main victims will be the people. Compared to advanced countries, the independence of the lawyers’ association in Iran is limited and not ideal at all. The Iranian Bar Association is a 100-year-old civil institution. Seventy years ago, Iran was one of the only countries in the region that had an independent bar association and was a member of the International Bar Association.
The existence of lawyers’ associations and their independence from government and governing bodies is an ongoing issue in the world today, and generally governments are trying to improve the status of the independent bars in their countries by protecting them and avoiding interfering in their internal affairs and inherent duties. This tends to increase the credibility of the judiciary and in this way helps guarantee the defense rights of their citizens. Many international documents, including reports of UN special rapporteurs, also specify the need for the independence of lawyers’ associations and preventing the government from interfering in their internal affairs and their inherent duties.
Iran’s parliament has for some time been applying pressure to deprive the country’s 28 lawyers’ associations of their independence. The current parliament, in its confrontational approach with the country’s national representative bar association, has traveled a path so far. The final result of this will be the civic destruction of the only independent agency in the country, precipitating its practical collapse by taking away its inherent duties and legal powers.
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