ICJ urges the government to refrain from interference with the legal profession
Government moves to amend the regulatory framework of the legal profession in Kazakhstan may undermine its independence and are contrary to the principle of self-regulation of the profession, the ICJ said today.
The ICJ called on the authorities of Kazakhstan to refrain from interference in the governance of the independent legal profession and step back to allow the collegia of lawyers to continue to take responsibility for such matters.
The ICJ stressed that any proposals for reform put forward by the governing bodies of the profession should be developed in consultation with and enjoy the consent of the members of advokatura in accordance with international law and standards on the independence of lawyers.
The ICJ was responding to proposals put forward by the Justice Minister Marat Beketayev for reform of the legal profession in Kazakhstan.
In a statement to Parliament on 29 May 2017 (Report of the Minister of Justice on the issues of further development and reform of the institutes of notary and advokatura on 29 May 2017), the Minister outlined plans to:
- lower training and entrance fees to the profession “in order to simplify access to the profession”;
- broaden the powers of the Republican Collegium to regulate the disciplinary system for lawyers, in light of the Minister’s view that lawyers were avoiding disciplinary responsibility in many cases under the current system;
- require lawyers to undergo annual training followed by exams, which would be set not by the collegia themselves, but by universities or external training centres;
- require lawyers, in addition to the participation in state-funded legal aid scheme, to provide mandatory legal assistance without financial support from the Government, which the Minister described as “pro bono” service
The importance of an independent legal profession which is self-regulating is well recognized and accepted under international standards and by international authorities.
One of the means by which such independence may be guaranteed is the governance of the profession by an organization independent from the State or other national institutions.
International standards provide that it is an important function of the lawyer’s association “[t]o maintain the honour, dignity, integrity, competence, ethics, standards of conduct and discipline of the profession” (Singhvi Declaration, para.99).
In this context, comments by the Justice Minister Marat Beketayev on the need to change the disciplinary system due to lawyers avoiding disciplinary responsibility “for violations committed” is of serious concern, the ICJ said.
While it is important that lawyers who act against the interests of their clients, or otherwise violate standards of lawyers’ ethics are subject to disciplinary responsibility, it is the function of the profession itself to decide on such matters. Disciplinary proceedings should never be used to undermine lawyers’ independence.
Lowering entrance fees for qualifying lawyers may be a positive measure that can enhance access to the profession for qualifyinglawyers, in circumstances where such fees are inaccessibly high.
However the initiating and design of such proposals should not be in the hands of the executive, as this may limit the independence and effectiveness of the legal profession.
Financial sustainability of an independent legal profession largely depends on its members’ fees.
The advokatura should be able to regulate and finance its regular operations, including administration and training, the ICJ added.
As noted by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers in his report of 2009: “… the legal profession is best placed to determine admission requirements and procedures and should thus be responsible for administering examinations and granting professional certificates. This would further help in preserving its independence and self-governance, as advised in the Basic Principles.”
The ICJ is also concerned at suggestions that, as part of continuing legal education, lawyers will be subject to examinations by institutions outside the profession.
While it remains unclear what role or effect such examinations would have, the proposal raises concerns regarding the legal profession’s self-regulation and would risk undermining its independence, the ICJ said.
It should be recalled that, Kazakhstan is required take measures to remove obstacles to the independence of lawyers.
Regarding the proposals on so called ‘pro bono legal assistance’, while it is welcome when any State adopts measures to make legal aid more accessible, such measures should not place an unreasonable burden on lawyers to provide mandatory legal assistance.
The scheme proposed by the Minister for Justice whereby lawyers become responsible for providing legal services without financial compensation for their work is of concern, and appears unlikely to ensure a high quality of legal advice, the ICJ added.
It should be the role of the government to provide regular and sufficient funding for such services, ensuring that legal aid is available for indigent clients in line with international standards.