IBA rejects UN report recommending the governmental regulation of lawyers

President Sternford Moyo pointed to several instances in which regulatory power was abused by governments

IBA rejects UN report recommending the governmental regulation of lawyers

The International Bar Association (IBA) has rejected the recommendation of a UN-commissioned report that suggests lawyers should be regulated by the government.

The report was published on 25 February by FACTI, the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda. The report focuses on the obstacles to meeting the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and suggested that governments regulate legal practitioners in accordance with “the demands of sustainable finance and the public interest.”

“While the ambitious and transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to be applauded, government regulation of the legal profession is not a proposal with which the IBA, as the global voice of the legal profession, can concur. Naturally, the IBA is committed to the fight against financial crime but providing governments with oversight of the legal profession as a remedy is of great concern,” IBA President Sternford Moyo said.

Moyo had been invited to the FACTI report’s launch to share his thoughts on the findings, especially with regard to lawyers and legal regulators’ role in the fight against white-collar crime. He countered the report’s claim that self-regulation was ineffective.

“In functioning democracies, an independent legal profession is a much-valued cornerstone of the rule of law. Unfortunately, where governments wish to silence dissent, we have witnessed many instances of the abuse of regulatory power, with lawyers being jailed for carrying out their professional duties, simply because they represent a client who is critical of the government or head of a nation,” he said. “The news reports are numerous and impossible to ignore. An independent legal profession, free from governmental interference, is essential.”

Speaking before the representatives of high-ranking UN member states at the launch, Moyo highlighted the contributions of lawyers to society’s function as they enforced and worked within legal structures and protections that are necessary to the fair and successful operation of a society.

IBA executive director Dr Mark Ellis said it was “regrettable” that the FACTI report chose to emphasise “the wrongdoings of a small criminal element, which has brought the profession into disrepute.”

“Such complicity in crime has been condemned by the IBA, and the broader legal community. It is recognised that crime by lawyers is very much the exception, not the norm, and can arise in any profession where there is a fiduciary duty or relationship of trust, including doctors, accountants, teachers and politicians. It is not unique to law,” he said.

Ellis pointed to the projects developed by the IBA in collaboration with organisations like the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to combat white-collar crime.

“We look forward to further cooperation with FACTI on the matters addressed in its report,” he said.

FACTI was established in March 2020 by UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and UN Economic and Social Council President Mona Juul. The panel is responsible for identifying actions that must be taken by the global community to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which cover financial and beneficial ownership transparency, tax issues, bribery and corruption, money laundering, the confiscation and disposal of criminal proceeds and the recovery and return of stolen assets.

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