UNBA is the voice of the profession that cannot be ignored when carrying out judicial reform and reform of advocacy, and we will continue to defend consistently the attorneys` right to take part in the development of specialized legislation.
Interview with Lydia Izovitova on the occasion of the 8th anniversary of the founding of UNBA: We are the voice of the profession, which cannot be ignored when conducting judicial reform and reform of advocacy
Lidia IZOVITOVA: “No matter how we argue during proceedings or even in self-government bodies, the legal community has been always consolidated concerning reliable guarantees of the independent status of the profession, protection of attorneys from pressure and interference of state bodies, and the absence of obstacles in the implementation of the constitutional role in protecting human rights”.
On November 17, 2012, the founding congress of attorneys of Ukraine was held, which created the Ukrainian National Bar Association (UNBA) to pursue the requirements of the new Law of Ukraine "On the Bar and Legal Practice" (hereinafter - the Law). It seemed to be the final step on the way to the bar's complete independence from the state, but it turned out that it was just a beginning.
The head of the UNBA, the head of the Bar Council of Ukraine, Lydia Izovitova, spoke about the path of the Ukrainian legal profession during the last eight years and the challenges it faces today.
- Lidia Pavlivna, eight years ago the attorneys' self-government was created as a system of bodies, attorneys got the right to make decisions independently on the organization and development of the legal profession. What was the biggest challenge?
- In 2012, we really created a system of attorneys' self-government bodies, but we have been moving towards real self-government all these years. Our entire professional community, every attorney, every delegate, and every member of the regional and national self-government body were participants in the formation and development of a new institution of the Bar. The most difficult thing about independence is the responsibility that you receive along with the right to act at your discretion. It seems to me that the legal profession fulfills this mission with dignity.
For eight years we have managed to create a working mechanism for self-regulation of the profession. The legal profession is built on the balance of powers, the competence of the elected representatives of the attorneys' self-government, intellectual, and managerial potential.
This is real, not imaginary, self-government as the regions have full autonomy in the implementation of their powers. The Center plays a leadership role as a representative and coordinator, avoiding imbalance or pressure on regional advocacy communities. The stronger and more stable is the regional legal profession is, the more powerful and the stronger will be the center and the entire system of organs.
- UNBA is growing and now unites seven times more attorneys than it was in 2012. What practical tasks of attorneys does self-government solve?
- Indeed, in 2013 we began to fill the Unified Register of attorneys of Ukraine (ERAU) with 8.4 thousand attorneys throughout Ukraine, according to the latest data from the register, there are almost 59 thousand attorneys now. 45 thousand of such are practicing attorneys. The exclusive right to legal representation, which we still have to defend, is not the main reason. The number has grown exponentially long before the introduction of the so-called legal monopoly. Attorneys who actually provide legal assistance have felt the benefits of being an attorney as a guarantee of respecting the rights of their clients.
It is not only the number that is growing but also the efficiency and competence of lawyers. We support this trend by investing time and resources in modernizing professional education by conducting advanced training of attorneys. This system has been postponed to the online form. Also, the Higher School of the Bar was created, and the UNBA Accreditation Center, which selects speakers and topics of lectures, was organized. Besides, it is important to notice how progressive and prepared the youth of attorneys are. They are active and professional, they have notorious soft skills, and they are the real future of the legal profession.
At the same time the experienced attorneys do not lag behind, continue developing, and UNBA helps them in this. In the structure of UNBA 43 committees provide analytical and expert work, interaction with professional public organizations and authorities. In the Association, every attorney can realize his/her potential in spheres he/she has a real talent for. We support any initiative if it is for the benefit of the profession and society: you can take part in the development of a code or industry legislation, organize evenings or sports events for attorneys, or combine them all!
- What are the current relations of the Bar with other institutions of the judicial system, government bodies?
- While realizing the importance of their contribution to the administration of justice in Ukraine, attorneys have always elected their worthy representatives to the High Council of Justizium, and then to the High Council of Justice, our representatives were delegated to the qualification commissions of judges and prosecutors. Attorneys take an active part in public councils created under the government agencies and in scientific and consulting councils of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts and occupy high government positions. This is about the formal points of contact of the legal profession with the state mechanism.
Over the years, UNBA has become an active player in the international arena in the professional environment. We have gained authority and international recognition with the help of the activity of our representative offices in different countries (and now there are 32 of them!).
In 2015, UNBA was admitted to the IBA (International Bar Association), which opened up wide opportunities for the protection of institutional rights and guarantees for the implementation of advocacy, support for advocate associations from around the world, and access to advanced experience in the development of the profession. In 2016, UNBA, as an observer, was admitted to the Council of Bar and Legal Communities of Europe (CCBE), which provides support in the protection of the rights of attorneys and promotes the development of professional education.
The support of CCBE played an important role in cases when it is tried to lower the level of independence of the legal profession in Ukraine, when it is cynically violated the rights of attorneys, ignoring their professional guarantees. These two organizations have repeatedly sent targeted intervention letters to the top leadership of Ukraine both regarding individual violations of rights, murders of attorneys, and the reform of the legal profession, from which they tried to exclude the legal profession itself.
In the same 2016, we joined the International Union of Lawyers. We have memorandums of cooperation with the Ukrainian American Bar Association (UABA), the Georgian Bar Association, actively cooperate with the Federal Chamber of Lawyers of Germany, the Law Society of England and Wales. This allows to recognize points for advanced training obtained abroad and even to pass exams and practice as a solicitor in England.
- Every year, and what is remarkable, usually in December, the next amendments to the specialized attorneys' law are discussed. Everyone remembers the confrontation around bill # 9055. Are you ready for a new draft to appear?
- Attorneys are always ready to defend the right in its purest form. This is the essence of our mission. UNBA makes all efforts to ensure that the new legislation does not worsen the status of the Bar and the rights of attorneys in the proceedings. Over the years, we gained experience in building advocacy self-government, the UNBA Development Strategy, and clearly understand ways to improve the status of the advocacy through law.
UNBA is authorized by law to represent the Bar in relations with authorities. We are the voice of the profession, which cannot be ignored when carrying out judicial reform and reform of the legal profession. We have consistently defended the right of attorneys to take part in the development of specialized legislation and will continue to do so.
Let`s have a look at the process of judicial reform carried out today. The professional judiciary has lost the initiative in developing specialized legislation, and judges have become an object of reform. The changes are developed by parliamentarians, activists, fulfilling the wishes of international "partners" or hiding behind them, and all this is contrary to our national interests. The consequence was the outflow of the most experienced and professional judges, distortions in the judicial system, each decision is perceived as a reason for a new reform, and in this destructive process, the voice of the judges themselves is hardly heard.
- Does it mean that the legal profession has defended its right to take part in the development of specialized legislation?
- At a certain historical moment, yes, but the struggle is not over. As part of the judicial reform of 2016, attempts began to drastically worsen our profile Law, we were drawn into an endless process of unsystematic politicized non-professional changes to it.
The opposition against Bill No. 9055 (the new edition of the Law on the Bar) was fundamental because it assumed two categorically unacceptable aspects: a deviation from already implemented European standards in relevant legislation and the exclusion of the Bar itself from the process of preparing the bill. Let me remind you that according to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Attorneys if there is a professional organization in a country, it should by default participate in the development of amendments to the legislation on the legal profession. We have actively defended this principle as an international guarantee of our self-regulation and independence from the state.
At the new stage of the legislative process, we see that chaotic attempts to change the status of the Bar are no longer undertaken by changing our profile Law. Control over attorneys is being introduced through amendments to certain legislative acts. Among them is the attempt of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine to introduce the so-called peer review into the system of free legal aid, which, would be interference with the legal position of an attorney and a violation of attorney secrecy. This is financial monitoring and the institution of whistleblowers, where they are trying to integrate lawyers. All this is an attack on the attorneys' secrecy that is the most important guarantee of human rights in a state governed by the rule of law. The same situation is with bill No. 2110 "On Public Electronic Registers", which infringes on the control over ERAU.
Further, we will increasingly face not with frontal attacks like amendments to the relevant Law, but with latent threats through non-core legislative initiatives. We have to learn how to deal with “hybrid” challenges to our independence and professional immunity.
- What challenges do attorneys face today?
- The work of attorneys has become much more complicated both due to objective obstacles in access to justice and due to violation of the principles of equality and adversarial process. Additional problems have arisen with the COVID-19 pandemic when quarantine restrictions were used to discriminate defenders in processes. It cannot be ruled out that the government will again introduce a lockdown, and the problem will only worsen.
Information attacks on attorneys, and pressure from so-called activists, and attempts to ignore the rights of attorneys and their professional guarantees have not gone anywhere. Unfortunately, some of these violations were recorded in the activities of the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court. Public pressure is provoked on lawyers, the main tool of which is the identification of attorneys and clients. We have repeatedly made decisions on the inadmissibility of violations of the rights of attorneys by some judges, but they do not adequately respond to them.
- Do you think the Ukrainian legal profession is still independent?
- If we take independence as a principle that in every case each attorney acts at his discretion, and decisions about the future of the profession are made by the attorneys themselves, then I can answer unequivocally in the affirmative. But the advocacy as an institution of the rule of law, are in close relationship with other constitutional institutions, which are regulated by the section "Justice" of the Constitution of Ukraine. Our global task is to ensure a fair court decision and the protection of the rights of every person.
After eight years, I think no one will deny that we have successfully passed the test for the ability to resolve our problems on our own, without the help of the state, and sometimes even despite its desire to limit our powers.
The creation of a professional self-regulatory organization became not only a formal fulfillment of the provisions of the Law of Ukraine "On the Bar and Legal Practice ", but also it crowned the many years of efforts and aspirations of the entire Ukrainian legal profession. Since the adoption of the first Law "On the Bar" in 1992 after Ukraine gained independence and accession to the Council of Europe in 1995 with the obligation to provide an independent legal profession, the legal community has been always consolidated concerning reliable guarantees of the independent status of the profession, protection of attorneys from pressure and interference of state bodies, and the absence of obstacles in the implementation of the constitutional role in protecting human rights.
No matter how we argue during proceedings or even regarding decisions in self-government bodies, this strategic goal has consolidated the legal profession. Now, when we have achieved it, we will work daily to strengthen the status of the profession and raise its standards.
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