Azerbaijan: new law ‘likely to harm’ profession of lawyer

Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC) and Cezar Florin Preda (Romania, EPP/CD), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, have expressed their concern at the adoption of the amendments to the law “on advocates and advocacy”. The new legislation aims at regulating representation before the courts in Azerbaijan in civil and administrative matters, similar to the already existing restrictions on the defence before criminal courts.

“In our last report, we noted with concern a general practice whereby lawyers were prevented from defending human rights activists or punished for doing so. The Assembly thus called on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that no pressure be exerted on lawyers defending NGO representatives, political activists, human rights defenders and journalists,” they recalled.

While the Azerbaijani Bar Collegium should act as a self-governing institution of lawyers that protects the independence and interest of the profession, it suffers from significant institutional weaknesses, undermining its independence and legitimacy to regulate the profession.

In this context, by reinforcing the monopoly of the Azerbaijani Bar Collegium without reviewing first its role in the governance of the profession based on the principle of independence and high ethical standards, the new legislation is likely to harm the profession of lawyer and citizens’ right of access to the courts.

“The Azerbaijani Bar Collegium cannot become an instrument that would limit access to justice for citizens seeking redress for human rights violations,” the rapporteurs said. “It is essential that the qualification process for a lawyer’s admission to the Bar is based on objective criteria and is free from arbitrariness and undue interference. Such reform should be carried out to secure a proper number of independent attorneys to uphold the principle of unhindered access to justice and an effective remedy for violations of human rights,” Mr Schennach and Mr Preda said.

“Remaining confident in our ongoing dialogue with the authorities, we hope that our concerns will be addressed by the authorities and we are looking forward to discussing this issue with the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE,” the corapporteurs concluded.