Sharing experiences with Uzbek defense lawyers

On May 25 and 26th, 2015, Regional Dialogue, in partnership with the Chamber of Lawyers, conducted a seminar on the role of US Bar and Chamber of Lawyers in the countries of European Union. RD engaged two subject matter experts – Lisa Guffey from US Federal Public Defenders’ Center in Washington, D.C., and Ranko Pelicaric as a representative of the EU Association of Advocates, from Zagreb, Croatia. The program of the two days’ seminar, also joined by specialists from the Uzbek Supreme Court Research Center Division (on relations with defense attorneys), included the role, status and support to membership as practiced in the US Bar and by Chamber of Lawyers in different EU member states.

Discussion focused on licensing procedures – both those for becoming a defense attorney, and for opening a law firm as practiced in US federal and state system, and within EU and its member states. Organizational and structural issues of BAR/Chamber of Lawyers valid among different countries were discussed – such as within US Federal and state systems, as well as within EU and its member states. The main principles – independence, loyalty to clients, and confidentiality were stressed as unique to all professional associations of defense lawyers. It was also stressed that defense attorneys should agree and unite around these basic principles, regardless of their differences or competition, so that they can speak with a unified voice. Only in this way, they will present a stronger voice as one of the “three-legged stool” (defense-prosecution on behalf of the state – judge) that guarantees fair and credible justice system. Unless a balance between defense and prosecution is established, it is also hard, if not impossible, to assure real independence and neutrality for judges.

The basic rule for defense lawyers, universal to all those working in this profession, is the supreme and only loyalty to the client that includes total confidentiality. Defense lawyers (similar to the oath of medical professionals) are obliged with their oath to never break these rules. Practices in US and EU regarding disciplinary oversight and reviews of strict implementation of these principles were also shared with their Uzbek partners and discussions were lively and very interactive Special and very important topic included the issue of free legal aid to those that cannot afford to pay for their defense. Different systems of state paid obligatory defense, relating to criminal justice procedures were discussed. The institute of Public Defenders institution, as practices in United States on the federal and state levels was compared to European experiences as practiced in different states. Issues related to the quality of defense, to financial reimbursement to lawyers by the state. It was especially pointed out that the proper choice of a system of assuring high quality defense offered to the fragile population was a very important mission for any state and a test of its serious commitment to the rule of law – since delivering justice fairly is a test of every state’s credibility. It affects all spheres of its life – economic, social and political sphere - and is crucial for the overall people’s trust into their state.

More than 70 defense lawyers attended the session on both days, and actively participated in lively discussions with their international colleagues. As Mr. Rovshan Akhmedov, Chairman of the Chamber of Lawyers said, currently there are a little more than 4000 registered defense lawyers in Uzbekistan. Since May 2008, when the Chamber of Lawyers was first started in Uzbekistan by a presidential decree, they have increased their membership by 18%. The Chamber of Lawyers now has its own headquarters in the capital Tashkent, as well as opening representative offices in the 13 regions of Uzbekistan. The Chamber of Lawyers is also responsible for setting up a network of qualified defense lawyers that need to be available to clients in all regions when state funded legal aid is needed to defendants that find themselves in the criminal process.

Uzbek participants also stressed that especially in the regions, free legal aid needs to be provided also for cases in civil, or economic courts, since people of lower socio-economic status usually lack both financial resources and legal knowledge to defend their rights or look for proper justice. The program was implemented by US State Department funding by its Democracy and Rule of Law Division.

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