Lawyers Say Bill on Legal Profession Destroys Lawyer Independence
During his last days as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the Cabinet to eliminate and archive the General Bill on the Legal Profession. This decision faced sharp criticism from the Head of the Judiciary, though it pleased many lawyers who have been critical of the bill. Three Iranian lawyers spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran about the implications of the bill.
In 2012, the Iranian Judiciary drafted the General Bill on the Legal Profession and submitted it to the Cabinet for review. The Cabinet was to review 124 articles from the bill before the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency and forward it to the Parliament, but Ahmadinejad ordered the Cabinet to eliminate it.
Reacting to Ahmadinejad’s tabling the General Bill on the Legal Profession in the Cabinet meeting, Head of the Iranian Judiciary Sadeq Larijani stated that the elimination of the bill “is more like a childish grudge than statesmanship.” Addressing Ahmadinejad, Larijani said, “Ask knowledgeable individuals: grudges are futile.”
One day after these sharp comments by Head of the Judiciary, Saeed Bagheri, a member of the parliamentary commission reviewing the General Bill on the Legal Profession, said at a June 26 cabinet meeting that review of the bill continues. “The President’s viewpoint is not for the bill to be completely removed from the review agenda of the Cabinet commissions. His orders pertain to elimination of certain articles in the bill that allow the Judiciary to interfere in the civil organization of legal profession,” he said. The commission member added that he hopes that the last review session of the bill will be on Thursday, July 4, and that it will be sent to the Parliament after that.
Many lawyers believe this bill will destroy the independence of lawyers and the Iranian Bar Association, and give the Judiciary dominance over activities of Iranian lawyers. They hope the bill will be stopped at some point.
Seyed Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaee, a prominent Iranian lawyer and a critic of this bill, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “The biggest problem with this bill, to which I object, is that it destroys the independence of the Iranian Bar Association and allows the Judiciary to both issue licenses for the lawyers and revoke them. The current president learned too late that independent lawyers can be to everyone’s benefit, including the Judiciary! I would like to point out an example from the Saddam Hussein trial. In court, Saddam asked, ‘Why don’t you allow me to hire a French lawyer?’ And the court said, ‘We are trying you on the basis of the judicial procedures you signed yourself, and in the existing procedures, an Iraqi cannot have a foreign lawyer.’ Saddam said, ‘That’s not fair!’ Now, the officials approving these laws must imagine that perhaps one day, they themselves may become suspects and wish for a lawyer to defend them. Would they like to be defended by a lawyer who is not independent and acts under the orders from the same system that is going to issue the ruling in their case?”
Alizadeh Tabatabaee, who has represented the Hashemi Rafsanjani family, continued, “I hope [even if] this bill goes to the Parliament during the life of this cabinet, that the next cabinet will take it back from the Parliament, considering the next Cabinet Head is a lawyer himself.”
Farideh Gheirat, another distinguished Iranian lawyer and a critic of this bill, told the Campaign, “This bill not only does not protect the independence of the lawyers, it will destroy it completely. I mean a lawyer will henceforth be picked by judicial authorities, he will be licensed by them, and, generally, whatever he does will have to be approved by the Judiciary. Where does this mean independence? Unfortunately, there are articles in this bill that completely undermine the independence of the Bar Association and take them under the umbrella of the Judiciary. But at this time, the Bar Association has independence. We have laws our lawyers are working under. We have a disciplinary court that reviews the violations. There is order in our work and the independence exists now, but what they have foreseen in this bill is not independence.”
When asked what would happen if the bill is approved, Farideh Gheirat said, “The Judiciary will pick the lawyer and decide whether he can continue his work, and if a lawyer commits a violation, the Judiciary will revoke his license. How would this mean independence?! It’s not like lawyers are committing offenses and acting without oversight. We currently have the Lawyers’ Disciplinary Court inside the Bar Association. If a lawyer violates the laws, he or she will be put on trial, but by the legal profession and the Bar Association themselves, not by government elements.”
Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht, a lawyer who has represented many political figures, told the Campaign, “This bill does not aim to establish the independence of lawyers and the Bar Association. Why should the fate of the lawyers as an official and legal guild with more than 100 years of history be given to the Judiciary?! The fate of a guild must be determined by elements within that guild and within the framework of the law. This is what we want.”
Responding to Ahmadinejad’s susspension of the bill, Larijani said, “A respectable lawyer wrote a letter about this to the president, and the president agreed and ordered that the General Bill on the Legal Profession be tabled.” The Head of the Judiciary said that he is not against the independence of the lawyers. “Unfortunately, it has been stated that we oppose the independence of the lawyers, which is not true. We observed that confirming a lawyer’s license is in some cases related to the Judiciary, but they see this contrary to the legal practice’s independence,” Larijani said.
In recent years, in the process of defending their clients and talking to the media, many lawyers have come under pressure by the judicial officials. Dozens of Iranian lawyers are currently imprisoned with heavy sentences for practicing their profession and not giving in to the Judiciary’s extralegal demands and orders.