The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has joined ten other Bar Associations, Law Societies and Legal Organisations in a joint declaration concerning the breakdown of the rule of law and serious threats against the independence of Judges, Lawyers, and Prosecutors in Turkey.

The declaration marks the 9th annual Day of the Endangered Lawyer and, along with BHRC, includes Abogacía Española – Consejo General, Geneva Bar Association–Human Rights Commission, German Bar Association–Human Rights Committee, European Bar Human Rights Institute, Paris Bar Human Rights Institute, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Observatory for endangered lawyers, Law Society of England and Wales, Lawyers for Lawyers, and Norwegian Bar Association–Human Rights Committee.

The Day of the Endangered Lawyer was founded and is organised by the Foundation for the Day of the Endangered Lawyer based in Harrlem, the Netherlands. The 24th of January was chosen to be the annual International Day of the Endangered Lawyer because on this day in 1977 four lawyers and a co-worker were murdered at their office in Madrid, Spain. This was also known as the Massacre of Atocha.

The Day honours lawyers across the world who put themselves at risk in the fight for human rights and the rule of law. It aims to create awareness that the practice of the legal profession in many countries involves significant risks, but also to denounce the situation in a particular country where lawyers are victims of serious violations of their fundamental rights because of the exercise of their profession. Each year, the persecution of lawyers in a particular country is highlighted, and the Foundation coordinates activities outside of the country’s embassies around the world. Previous Days of the Endangered Lawyer have expressed concern for lawyers in Iran (2010), Turkey (2012), Basque Country/Spain (2013), Colombia (2014), the Philippines (2015), Honduras (2016), China (2017) and Egypt (2018).

In line with the focus for the Day of the Endangered Lawyer for 2019, the joint declaration expressed its concern for lawyers in Turkey:

As Bar associations, Law societies, and organisations representing the interests of lawyers, we express our alarm about the increasing attacks against members of the legal profession, the breakdown of the rule of law, and the human rights violations against lawyers, judges, and prosecutors in Turkey. 

Prior and after the failed coup of 2016, the legal profession in Turkey has been the target of systematic persecution and attacks, with more than 594 lawyers arrested, 1,546 prosecuted and 216 lawyers convicted since 2016.

The joint declaration also raises concern for the legal profession, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in light of  legislative reforms, adopted during and after the state of emergency, which have “permanently curtailed the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession in Turkey.” BHRC and the other 10 legal associations urge the Turkish government to protect the rights of judges, lawyers and prosecutors and to preserve the rule of law in accordance with international human rights standards and its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

You can read the full joint declaration here. 

BHRC Acting Chair, Stephen Cragg QC said:

 In countries like the UK, lawyers are fortunate to be able to go about their work without harassment, the risk of persecution and prosecution. Judges are able to give judgement without fear of reprisals. However, on the Day of the Endangered Lawyer we have to remember that there are many parts of the world where that is not the case, and practicing law, especially in human rights areas, requires bravery and fortitude.  This is especially the case in Turkey where literally thousands of lawyers have found their lives turned upside down. Some are being prosecuted, some have been convicted, many have fled, simply for carrying out their professional duties. We support those lawyers and judges who have been treated in these ways, and urge governments around the world and, today, especially in Turkey, to respect and uphold the international human rights standards which set out the necessary protections for lawyers to discharge their professional functions.

In 2018, BHRC, along with the Law Society of England and Wales and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute,  issued a joint submission to the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers concerning the independence of the legal profession in Turkey. The submission raised concern for the fair trial rights of lawyers facing prosecution in Turkey following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, including concerns for the independence of the judiciary and concerns about the independence of the legal profession, such as hindrances to the effective performance of lawyers’ professional functions, direct interference with the independence of bar associations and denying admission to the bar. The submission also highlighted its concern over the arbitrary arrest, detention and wrongful prosecution of lawyers in Turkey, as well as concern for the safety of those currently detained.

BHRC joined two oral statements before the Human Rights Council  regarding the situation of lawyers in Turkey in 2018. The first was to the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Human Rights Defenders at the 37th session in March 2018, and the second was to the  UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers at the 38th session in June 2018.  The statement at the 38th session invited the Council to urge the Government of Turkey to end repression and persecution of lawyers in Turkey, release all lawyers under arbitrary detention, provide all lawyers in Turkey with the protection and guarantees required to carry out their functions as provided for in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers; and ensure that all attacks against lawyers are effectively investigated and perpetrators effectively prosecuted.

BHRC also sent a joint letter with the Bar Council of England and Wales to Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to voice concerns over Turkey’s ongoing and large-scale prosecution of judges, lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders with the Turkish President during his visit to the United Kingdom in May 2018. BHRC, the Bar Council, the International Association of Lawyers (UIA), the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), and the Law Society of England and Wales also sent an open letter to President Erdoğan  raising concerns over the rising number of cases of human rights violations against lawyers in Turkey on the Turkish Day of the Lawyer in April 2018.