Thought Police for Ukraine’s Lawyers
With Ukraine’s judges largely cowered or enticed into line, an offensive has been underway for the past 8 months against the country’s advocates. The weapons deployed are increasingly reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, and appear to be targeting all vestiges of freedom of speech and independence of views.
The Council of Advocates’ latest initiative could, if seen out of context, appear comical. One of 5 committees it has created is on ethics with its new head a lawyer doubling up in pure Soviet style as a concerned citizen seeking respite against bad language. Humour is difficult, however, when the committee he is to chair will be able to propose disciplinary measures, and two other committees are about liaising with the police and commissions with the power to strip advocates of their licence. This power has, furthermore, been used a number of times recently.
Warrior against foul language Andriy Tsykhankov recently wrote a letter to the Council of Advocates expressing concern over “infringements by some advocates of the rules of professional ethics in their communications on the Internet”.
Tsykhankov states that “a person who is not moral, who cannot be restrained in communication with their opponent, cannot be a lawyer”.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, the “person who is not moral” in this case is not accused of downloading child pornography; inciting racial enmity or libelling others on the Internet (and specifically social networks”). Tsykhankov’s letter from 17 April 2013 was about members of the profession who express critical views allegedly with the use of offensive or foul language. Such comments, he claimed, “insult not only members of the public, but also other advocates, political figures and representatives of the authorities”.
It is such people “who cannot be lawyers”.
Over recent months well over twenty advocates, many with long and distinguished careers have been stripped of their licence to practise or faced serious disciplinary proceedings. In all cases they had used entirely unexceptional language to publically express critical views. All those now under fire had been involved in an alternative Congress of Advocates on 17 November 2012. This was attended by a number of advocate delegations from around the country who left the scheduled Congress in protest. They asserted that the scheduled event, due to vote for self-government bodies, had been hijacked by a group of advocates from Kyiv and Donetsk, and that unidentified individuals were guarding the entrance and not admitting certain advocates. The official congress, albeit with considerably depleted numbers, elected Lidia Izovitova to be Head of the National Association of Ukrainian Advocates. Izovitova is Deputy Head of the High Council of Justice, a body whose powers have been considerably expanded since the judicial changes in July 2010. She is also rumoured to have strong backing from Andriy Portnov from the President’s Administration.
Of particular concern is the case of Mykola Siry, Senior Academic Member of the Koretsky Institute of State and Law. On 17 April disciplinary proceedings were brought against him by the Transcarpathian Qualification and Disciplinary Commission. The unbefitting behaviour” in his case was that Mr Siry had publically stated the following:
“as a lawyer I’d like to advise ordinary citizens to be much more careful and alert after 20 November [when the new Criminal Procedure Code came into force – HC]. In the new CPC there are stricter rules for police reaction to minor offences which can now be qualified as criminal”. He suggested that it might be wise to have your internal passport on you, especially out on the streets at night, and said that if detained, people should approach a lawyer.
Now even if some media sources got it all wrong and quoted him as saying that from 20 November people have to have their passports on them, the Commission had to consider what he actually said. And what he expressed was clearly an opinion based on his professional experience. It is an opinion not shared by the main spokesperson for the new CPC – Presidential Advisor Portnov, but, like it or not, one that in a democratic country he has a right to hold – and express.
The fact, therefore, that he faced disciplinary measures over critical remarks is a worrying precedent, and surely intended to be viewed as such. The message is clear: watch your step and keep your head low. And now for those believing that one bastion remained - keep a lid on what you say on the Internet. Big Brother is watching your language.