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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

It is clear that the power of the Judiciary to grant and repeal licences is likely to result in article 187 legal advisors being strongly influenced by the Judiciary. They are always at risk that their licences may be revoked or not be renewed anymore if they take on the defence of sensitive political and security cases. This represents a significant inroad into the independence of the legal profession as a whole and of individual lawyers in Iran. The relationship may also affect judicial independence and impartiality.

Probably, the case of the lawyers of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Order of Sufi Darvishes is self evident and leaves no doubt about the lack of independence of legal advisors and their Centre. In the aforementioned case, professional licences of two article 187 legal advisors, Mostafa Daneshju and Omid Behroozi were revoked by the Legal Advisors’ Centre, in September 2008. They had previously represented the cases of Darvishes on various occasions. It was later revealed that the decisions of the Centre were purely based on the report of the Deputy of the Attorney General in Political and Security Affairs and confidential letters of the Ministry of Intelligence.[16]

Another concern is that the training requirements for legal advisors are much less stringent than those required for independent lawyers of Bar Associations. An applicant wishing to qualify as a legal advisor only has to sit for one exam and to complete a traineeship of six months. This is to be contrasted with Iranian Bar Association lawyers who sit for a very competitive entrance exam as well as undertaking an 18-month traineeship plus a final plenary exam named Ekhtebar, one of the most difficult exams held in Iran. Undoubtedly, the article 187 scheme is producing lawyers who are under-qualified in comparison with Iranian Bar Association lawyers.

The Iranian Government’s purported rationale for the introduction of article 187 legal advisors was due to concerns that the Iranian Bar Associations were trying to monopolize permits to practice as a lawyer. It is in fact asserted that article 187 was introduced to overcome the Iranian Bar Associations’ unwillingness to allow more lawyers to practice in the country.

The Iranian Bar Associations have always rejected this assertion and referred to article 1 of the Law of Conditions for Obtaining Attorney’s License, according to which, Bar Associations have been obliged to hold the Bar exam at least once a year; and the number of trainees that must be admitted every year shall be decided by a special Commission with only one member representing the Bar’s interests. According to the note of the aforementioned article, the Commission is composed of the Chief Judicial Director of the Province, the Chairperson of the first Branch of the Revolutionary Court, and the Chairperson of the Bar Association. If the Judiciary was concerned about the shortage of lawyers in Iran, instead of creating a new breed of dependent lawyers, it could simply require the Bar Associations to admit more trainees.

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Lawyers, Right to counsel