“Ukrainian attorneys are equal partners for many European colleagues”
Our attorneys are respected abroad, negative stereotypes do not affect it
- National Bar Association has two international committees: the one you chair and the international law committee. How do you distribute functions and areas of interest?
- Despite such names, these are completely different committees in their competence. The Committee on International Relations is responsible for the development of relations between the bar of Ukraine and the bar of other countries, the representation of the interests of the Ukrainian bar in relations with international organizations such as CCBE, IBA, the Council of Europe. This is, in essence, the development of diplomatic relations between the professional communities of different countries, with a focus on European and democratic countries legislation.
One of the areas of work of our committee is to promptly inform the international community about cases of violation of the rights of Ukrainian attorneys. Unfortunately, the statistics of violations do not promise that in the near future work in this area will be reduced. For example, when a public authority grossly or systematically violates the rights of attorney’s defense, each attorney may apply to the National Bar Association profile committee, which defends the rights of attorneys, and submits its materials and research for response to National Bar Association. In addition, the international committee has the opportunity to attract the attention of foreign partners. They have the tools of interventions, public appeals, reports to give their assessments.
This is not just a statement on the official website of the organization - it is about intervention address letters that are sent simultaneously to the Presidential Office, Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Justice. A copy is sent to the head of the body that violated the rights of a attorney. We all understand that international assessments are something that cannot be ignored.
Therefore, when one association acts as a united front in defense of the 50,000-strong attorney’s community, you are listened to and heard.
The next big block of our work is to cover the activities of the Ukrainian Bar. Our offices are a good advertisement and an indicator of what we have achieved in 8 years of our institutional development.
Therefore, the Committee on International Relations is institutional and the Committee on International Law is sectoral.
- And what do the representatives of your committee do abroad? Do National Bar Association foreign offices provide legal assistance to our citizens?
- First, it should be understood that representations are work on a voluntary basis. Each representative office has one or two people who independently organize the work of these offices. It is important that the National Bar Association does not cover the costs of this activity.
Our representations function as honorary consulates. The main task is to maintain a dialogue with local attorneys. If we need to quickly organize an event or hear the expert opinion of colleagues, we have the support of the missions.
- National Bar Association has signed a memorandum with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What is it for?
- Quite often our citizens turn to Ukrainian consulates with a request to help in certain legal questions. The consulates have lists of attorneys, and they have lawyers from our offices. By the way, such legal aid can often be provided "pro bono".
- With the assistance of the National Bar Associate, some attorneys were lucky enough to pass an internship at the Paris Bar Association. How to become a member of such a program? Are there internship programs in European courts?
- I will start with the fact that our international colleagues highly appreciate our progressive model of self-government of the bar. We are an example for many European attorneys. A few years ago, the National Bar Association delegation was invited to the French Bar Congress in Bordeaux. We presented the achievements of the National Bar Association, specific areas - the creation of the Unified Register of Attorneys, the organization of continuing education, online services, the relevant law of 2012 and amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine.
This made a positive impression on our French colleagues. They were very impressed with the level of freedom and independence of the legal profession in Ukraine in terms of self-government. For decades, Ukraine was perceived as a Soviet country and, accordingly, no one thought about the independence of the bar. The level of independence and self-government that we have achieved in 8 years shows that we are the most progressive.
I will give an example. In some European countries, the law on the bar is not very new. We are independent of the state, which is in line with the commitments made by Ukraine when it joined the Council of Europe in 1995. This is a quite strong argument in front of our colleagues.
Before we became a member of the Council of European Bar and other law societies, which brings together about a million attorneys from all Council of Europe member states, experts came to us and looked at our bar. The level of institutional independence was positively perceived and assessed, so we joined the organization as an observer. Therefore, Ukrainian attorneys are equal partners for many European colleagues.
Returning to the topic of internships, I would like to note that we have good relations with the French Bar and not only with them. So when colleagues announce a new internship program, they make sure to let us know. We accumulate all this information and publish it on the National Bar Association website. Our task is not to make a selection, but to inform.
"Despite the fact that our free legal aid is administered by the state, the responsibility for low-quality services lies with the bar"
- How can our attorneys become participants in an international internship program abroad? What are the selection criteria?
- There are a lot of internship programs. For example, the Paris Bar Association often recruits. There are also the English-language programs, there are programs exclusively for students, there are fewer of them, but they are there.
There is no unambiguous list of criteria. It all depends on the program. Of course, a foreign language is always a must. Criteria and selection are the work of the internship organizers. In such cases, the National Bar Association is involved by international partners to report on certain educational and training opportunities abroad.
Undoubtedly, the experience of participating in such programs is a professional advantage for a young attorney.
- The National Bar Association a few years ago agreed to cooperate with representatives of the Spanish Bar. The National Bar Association website has information that the Spanish free legal aid model has convincing advantages. What is the difference between the Spanish model and ours and what could be borrowed from the Spain?
- The key point is that in most developed countries of the world the system of free legal aid is administered exclusively by lawyers' associations. The function of the state is only to pay for the services of defenders. Why is the system better in Spain? Because in them the role and tasks of the state are reduced only to payment of services of the defender and check, whether the client meets the criteria necessary for reception of services of the free attorney.
In our country, the free legal aid was launched a year before the adoption of the law "On the Bar and legal practice", on the basis of which the National Bar Association was established. The state has many powers in this system. That is why there are many nuances that are the cause of possible abuses by the state.
First, our primary legal aid is provided by lawyers, not attorneys and they are not covered by legal secrecy. At one time, human rights activists faced problems with paying for their work. In order to receive the money, the attorney had to submit a report on the work done to the head of the free legal aid center, so it was necessary to disclose the attorney’s secret.
When the free legal aid system is managed by the lawyers themselves, we can talk about greater efficiency. Especially since the responsibility still lies with the professional association. If a citizen is dissatisfied with the results of an attorney’s work, he or she complains to the Legal Aid Coordination Center. At the center, he is told to complain to the qualification and disciplinary commission of the bar.
In Europe, however, there is a balance of transparency and accountability in this system, and we are striving for something similar. I think that sooner or later we will come to a system where the role of the state in the attorney’s activities of free legal aid will be minimized.
"Can you imagine that Ukrainian or Mexican experts will be involved in the formation of the Belgian Justice Council ?!"
- You have probably heard about the dissatisfaction of attorneys, judges and other lawyers about the formation of some constitutional bodies with the help of ethics commissions or integrity councils, which consist of international experts. Is this a way of forming government bodies in the countries where you have offices, or any other?
- This method of forming state bodies abroad is not practiced. As a rule, everyone manages their mind. The "red lines" are very important in this matter.
To adopt the leading experience of foreign colleagues is one situation, but to be a platform for someone's experiments is quite another. The first option can be compared with the practice of business schools or with the method of cases, which show both good examples and bad stories. The point is to look at international practice and try to use it at home. Gaining experience is aimed at quickly and efficiently achieving the ultimate goal, because there is an understanding of about 90% of the problems you will face.
By the way, we often use this method in the National Bar Association. For example, annual reports. When we started working, we realized that we had to report to the members of the association. But ordinary reports in the format of a word-document no one needs. In addition, the effectiveness of their perception leaves much to be desired. So we studied the experience of colleagues and borrowed the idea of reports in the format of infographics, slides, but tried to do better. This form of cooperation with international colleagues and partners has a positive impact on the development of the sphere.
The option of involving international experts in the formation of constitutional bodies is a completely different situation. Here we open the Constitution: "Ukraine is a sovereign and independent, democratic, social, legal state." What kind of independence, sovereignty and rule of law can we talk about if foreign agents determine the composition of constitutional bodies? Is it possible to imagine that Ukrainian or, for example, Mexican experts are involved in the formation of the High Council of Justice of Belgium?! This is not an examination. Why are such people called experts? They are lobbyists!
If we turn to the experience of other countries. Let's look at the United States. In them, foreign agents or persons representing the interests of another state must register and report. Such persons are obliged to disclose all information about relations with foreign governments and bodies, details of activities and financing. The key purpose of inspections is to help the government and the American people evaluate the statements and activities of such individuals. This order is monitored by the Counterintelligence Section of the National Security Department of the Ministry of Justice.
Looking at the state of affairs in our country, I want to ask: "Why do we have the opposite?".
- However, experts from the international community are part of our reality. Didn't your committee want to help the state in selecting experts for public integrity councils at public authorities?
- I think that our state can independently, without the involvement of foreign agents, solve any issues related to public administration and state formation. Regarding the involvement in this activity, I will say that you need to understand the mentality and legal awareness of foreign legal circles.
It is difficult for me to imagine how to talk about this topic with foreign colleagues. I have to approach them and ask: "Don't you want to form a constitutional body in Ukraine?". One will immediately begin to think that this is a state treason or a bad joke. I'm talking about the legal awareness of attorneys. We are a free and independent people, so it is easy to predict their reaction to such issues.
- According to our legislation, foreign attorneys must obtain a permit from the Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of the Bar to conduct business. Can you tell us about the obstacles that arise in the way of foreign attorneys to obtain and realize the right to practice law?
- First, attorneys who come to work for us must register with Unified Register of Attorneys of Ukraine. This is a requirement of the law, and it is quite successfully implemented. The National Bar Association works in this direction and helps colleagues from other countries.
There are not many attorneys from other countries - they are dozens, not hundreds. However, this figure is growing every year. As a rule, people come to us only to resolve multinational disputes involving large companies and even corporations. They are working on these cases together with Ukrainian attorneys, because a non-resident in our country has the right to practice only the law of his country and international law. This is a common model in the world, it is adapted to the current Ukrainian law on the bar.
Attorneys from Germany, Great Britain, USA and Poland come to us most often. Ukrainian attorneys also often choose these countries for foreign practice.
An example of the development of the Ukrainian bar is what is called a "success story" abroad.
- It is always interesting to know what others think of you. Ukraine is among the top countries in the number of complaints to the ECHR. As the head of the committee, you communicate with lawyers from abroad. What do they think of us, how do they feel about our legal system and the attorney’s profession?
- It is necessary to separate the attitude to the institution of the bar, the legal system and the state as a whole. For the last 8 years the National Bar Association has proved to the world community that we are truly an independent and progressive organization. It must be understood that Ukraine has long been perceived as a Soviet heritage. Defenders were treated as a structure highly dependent on the state. Honestly, this was the case until 2012, there was no need to talk about independence. However, as I have already mentioned, it is the new law that has become the starting point for our development.
In my mind, an attorney who did not have time to work in the old system, any influence of the state levels the nature of the self-governing body. And then it was so, because the then body - the High Qualification Commission of Advocacy - was in the structure of the Cabinet of Ministers. The government then controlled activities and funding. If I'm not mistaken, the Cabinet even gave money for congresses. So if there is external influence, then there can be no question of independence.
The National Bar Association began to pay attention to the development of international contacts virtually immediately after its establishment. For 8 years we have been in direct dialogue with international partners who see our institutional development. In fact, at first we needed advice and transfer of experience, however, the path that other countries have overcome for decades, we have passed in 8 years. Therefore, the history of our association is what is called a "success story" abroad. Despite all the obstacles, we succeeded.
At the same time, when it comes to the state and the legal system as a whole, our colleagues have a certain dissonance. Illustrative here is the story that unfolds around the latest decision of the Constitutional Court. Such stories are not accepted by lawyers from Europe and other countries, and this is reflected in the positions of European organizations.
I know for sure that my foreign colleagues are following such cases and events in Ukraine in general, so some stories are very damaging to the reputation of the state. However, as for my colleagues, I know that our attorneys are respected abroad, no negative stereotypes affect it.
- Back in 2019, the National Bar Association announced the opening of a representative office in Portugal and Denmark. At what stage is your cooperation now? In what other countries do you plan to open offices?
- Yes, we have already set up offices in Denmark and Portugal. By the way, this is not the first representation in Portugal. As for future plans, it is difficult to predict, because we do not set a goal to open 10 new offices a year.
I will explain the mechanism: we are approached by an attorney, for example, from New York, with a desire to help the National Bar Association with its experience and connections. After such a request, we begin to look for points of contact and cooperation with a colleague who wants to be actively involved. After opening a representative office, we agree on a work plan, and it starts working. Thanks to the representations, we also build relations with national bar associations of other countries, exchange information about activities, etc.
Our main task is to protect the interests of the entire legal community - in the small district center, the capital and abroad. So when one association acts as a united front in defense of the 50,000-strong attorney’s community, you are listened to and heard.