Parliamentary Bills Further Threaten Autonomy of Legal Profession in Iran
In an escalating war of words that reflects the long-running conflict between the Judiciary and lawyers over the legal profession’s independence in Iran, the Iranian Bar Association Union’s president, Bahman Keshavarz, reiterated in an interview with the official ISNA news service on June 21 that the Union does not operate under the auspices of the Judiciary and that it is a private institution.
He added that the group’s “relative independence brings integrity to the Judicial Branch, court decisions and the state as a whole.”
Keshavarz was reacting to Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei’s comments reported on June 8 by the state broadcasting organization’s news agency that “the legal profession should not be monopolized by certain individuals who make millions.” Ejei added that lawyers have a duty to implement the law rather than trying to win cases for their clients by any means.
The Judiciary’s relentless efforts to cement its authority under Iranian law to decide who can become a lawyer, how lawyers are monitored, controlled, disciplined, and disbarred, and how suspects are allowed access to lawyers, are now in the final stages as a bill in the Iranian Parliament is making its way through approval stages which would redefine the legal profession.
According to conservative MP Hamidreza Tabatabaie Naini, Parliament will try to pass a law that “preserves the independence of the lawyers’ union while strengthening the supervisory authority of the Judicial Branch.”
For many years the Judiciary has been trying to undermine the lawyers’ union’s independence and attach it to the Judiciary. As it stands, many lawyers believe the union is not independent enough.
Ejei’s latest comments reflect the Judiciary’s rejection of the lawyers’ autonomy and its view that lawyers should be completely obedient to the Judiciary. This view underpins the Judiciary’s harassment and arrest of the many lawyers who have represented political and civil activists; it does not recognize the lawyers’ right to defend their clients to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of the charges.
Referring to Ejei’s statements, the lawyers’ union’s President Bahman Keshavarz said lawyers have a legal duty to defend their clients while protecting confidentiality.
The assault on the lawyers’ union comes at a time when the Judiciary has already undermined the independence of the legal profession by making drastic changes in the laws regarding the certification of lawyers and on the supervision of the bar exam.
According to a 1997 law, the Disciplinary Court for Judges is in charge of reviewing the qualifications for candidates seeking a seat in the lawyers’ union’s board of directors. In this way the Judiciary exerts its influence. For example, in the 2013 elections, nearly 30 candidates were disqualified by the Disciplinary Court for Judges.
In February 2014, some 200 lawyers wrote an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani expressing concern about the Judiciary’s attempts to curb their autonomy. They accused the Judiciary of trying to destroy the independence of the legal profession “established by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh more than 70 years ago.”
Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani has denied the charges, claiming that the Judiciary’s supervision over lawyers would not curtail their independence.