Former Belarusian advocates express concern over pressure on Ukrainian colleagues
A number of former Belarusian advocates (/bar lawyers) have responded to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s statement regarding pressure being brought to bear on Ukrainian advocates. UHHRU reported a number of cases where the lawyers had been stripped of their right to practice, faced other disciplinary proceedings and some seemed to be facing criminal proceedings as well.
The measures seem to be directed at lawyers involved in an “alternative congress” and in various ways not following the official organization’s line. For example, Volodymyr Vysotsky who for many years headed the High Qualification and Disciplinary Commission has been banned from carrying out work as an advocate with the grounds given being his participation in the alternative congress and his having queried the wisdom of certain decisions.
The Belarusian advocates who have responded to this statement note that the grounds for the punitive measures seem to lie in their assessment of some aspects of the new Criminal Procedure Code and their querying of decisions taken at one of the congresses.
They believe that such cases as well as reports of a rift in the Ukrainian bar indicate a deep crisis of the institution within Ukraine.
They say that they have bad experience and warn that similar events took place in Belarus in 2011 with these leading to the effective dissolution of an independent bar in the country. “Endless checks of advocates by the Justice Ministry; involvement of advocate bodies of self-government in persecution of advocates; constant complaints over critical statements made by advocates in the press; mass re-certification of advocates led to some advocates being forced out of the profession and others seeing no alternative but to leave.”
They add that the indifference of the majority of advocates allowed the adoption of a law on the bar which has finally stripped advocates of their independence and turned the bar into a structural department of the Justice Ministry.
Belarusian advocates began en masse to refuse to work on politically motivated trials and critical statements and articles by advocates disappeared from the media. Advocates find themselves under the permanent threat of having their licence removed which strips them of any independence.
This is a major problem in Belarus in the context of the right to a fair trial.
The authors note that it was Ukrainian advocates in 2011 who demonstrated support for them and now they wish to express their support. They call on advocates to learn from the Belarusian experience, to stop the pressure and to uphold independence and self-government.