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European backing for agreement to protect rights of lawyers

An agreement protecting the rights of lawyers across Europe has taken a step closer to reality, after a Council of Europe (CoE) body approved plans for a convention specifying those rights.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), made up of members of parliament from the CoE’s 47 member states, approved recommendations to draft a convention at a meeting in Strasbourg last week.

The idea will now go to the CoE’s Committee of Ministers for approval. The deadline for approval is nine months. Should ministers approve the plans, a convention will be drafted by an expert committee which, once agreed, would need to be signed and ratified by member states.

The assembly cited an increasing number of threats and attacks against lawyers as its inspiration for recommending the convention. Sabien Lahaye Battheu, PACE rapporteur, said a string of attacks on lawyers has taken place in the past 12 months alone. Last year, hundreds of lawyers were detained after the failed coup in Turkey.

According to the recommendation, the convention should ‘fully respect, protect and promote the freedom of exercise of the profession of lawyer’. The recommendation also considers that there is a need for an ‘early-warning mechanism’ to respond to immediate threats to lawyers’ safety and independence.

The CoE is recommending that the convention be open to non-member states to opt in.

Legal professional bodies, including the Bar Council, have backed the idea.

Law Society president Joe Egan said lawyers must be allowed to carry out their professional duties without interference and should never be identified with their clients or clients’ causes.

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe said the recommendation was a ‘major step forward in the protection of human rights and the rule of law’.

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