International bodies are speaking out against the governments’ initiatives
The governments of Turkey and Iran are putting forward initiatives set to restrict legal independence in their respective countries.
The Law Society Gazette reported that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party is looking to introduce amendments to the process of electing officers in professional bodies by bringing in proportional representation. As a result, the government will be able to exercise control over more than 50 bar associations.
This move comes after the Ankara and Diyarbakir Bar Associations reacted to the use of homophobic language by Ali Erbas, head of the government department administering religious institutions under the secular constitution. The two major bar associations have since been placed under criminal investigation on a charge of insulting the Islamic religion.
Following 2016’s unsuccessful coup and the related mass arrests, numerous lawyers and prosecutors are still incarcerated even though a number of prisoners have already been released due to COVID-19, highlighting the struggles faced by the independent legal sector in Turkey.
Meanwhile, in Iran, a bill is being drafted to introduce a Supreme Council for the Coordination of Lawyers’ Affairs. The council will include seven government-appointed members, and would effectively replace the Iranian Bar Association.
In a letter addressed to Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi, over 12,000 legal professionals in the country protested the bill.
International legal bodies react
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said that the developments in Turkey “do not bode well for prosecutorial independence.”
“The Law Society is very concerned about the recent launching of criminal investigations against the Ankara and Diyarbakir Bar Associations,” he said. “These latest criminal investigations demonstrate that not only individual lawyers are at risk, but that even professional bodies are being hindered in carrying out their work.”
International Bar Association President Horacio Bernardes Neto said that the bill proposed by the Iranian government “poses a great threat to the independence of the legal profession in Iran and serves to reform the national bar association into an arm of government, rather than an independent, self-governing association that protects the rights and interests of Iranian lawyers, and, by extension, citizens.”