The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and The Bar Council of England and Wales have expressed deep concern over recent attacks against lawyers in Turkey.
On 16 March, nine human rights lawyers, known for their work in representing minority groups and people accused of terrorism and crimes against the state, were arrested in police raids on their homes. The mass arrest of these lawyers is in breach of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
BHRC and The Bar Council also condemn attacks by riot police upon the lawyers who were representing their detained colleagues during a press conference on the steps of the court room on 17 March. The police action was witnessed by members of an international delegation of trial observers, including lawyers from the UK.
Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said: “The recent mass arrest and detention of lawyers in Turkey strikes at the heart of our most fundamental civil and democratic values. A mandatory component of the rule of law is that people who are accused of crimes may be represented by a legal representative. The rule of law is, therefore, seriously undermined when lawyers are persecuted for, and prevented from, carrying out their duties.”
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of BHRC, said: “The arrest of nine defence lawyers – the day before the trial of the 47 defence lawyers they were to represent – is Kafkaesque in its extreme contempt of the rule of law and due process. Whilst the recent release of all nine lawyers is welcomed, they remain under prosecution on undisclosed evidence in breach of fair trial rights. Further, BHRC condemns the actions of the Turkish police in violently dispersing a press conference outside the court which was being held by the remaining free defence lawyers and observed by international trial observers. BHRC calls for Turkey to take urgent action to remedy these ongoing breaches of international law as well as the deep erosion by the State of the rule of law.”
The mass arrest of these lawyers appears to be in breach of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. Principle 18 provides that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions, and principle 20 affirms that lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith or in their professional appearances before courts and tribunals.