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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

It should also be noted that article 187 of the Third Program of Economic, Social and Cultural Development expired in March 2004 as it had only been enacted for a five-year period. It is clear that the Iranian Parliament showed no tender to renewing the law in order to make the continuation of the article 187 Legal Advisors’ Centre legally valid. First, the issue of article 187 legal advisors was not included in the Fourth Program of Economic, Social and Cultural Development. Second, when in November 2009 the Bill of “Repeated Article 187” was introduced to be included in the Fifth Program, which aimed to renew the old article 187, albeit due to objections and lobbies of the directors of the Bar Association, it was rejected by Members of Parliament.

Surprisingly, despite this legal flaw, and while since 2001, approximately 14,000 legal advisors have been admitted to practise as legal advisors under article 187, the Legal Advisors’ Centre still plans for admission of more legal advisors. In 2011 the article 187 Centre advertised for a new round of admission and in response the Bar Association wrote a letter to the Head of the Judiciary and objected to the plan with reference to the legal flaws of the article 187 scheme and called for cancellation of the exam. Since then, the exam has not yet been held.

In addition, directors and members of the Legal Advisors’ Center have made every effort to integrate their Centre and its advisors with the Bar Associations and their attorneys as if they are one and the same. For instance, the Centre, with the support of the Judiciary, has tried its best to introduce the legal advisors as attorneys. While in article 187 they were referred to as “legal advisors”, they purport to be “attorneys” and introduce themselves as such. Accordingly, their supervising Center which was established by the Judiciary was labeled as “Centre for Legal Advisors, Attorneys, and Experts of the Judiciary”. Quite similarly, in 2009, the then Head of the Judiciary, at the end of his term of office and in the midst of the presidential election protests, accepted the proposal of the Legal Advisors’ Centre to hide the affiliation of the Centre to the Judiciary in its title and make it more similar to the Bar Association. As a result, he agreed to rename the Centre to “National Association of Legal Advisors, Attorneys, and Experts”. This was even published in the Official Gazette[17] which customarily publishes new Laws and Regulations. This change was strongly objected to by the Bar Associations and a complaint was filed by the Central Bar Associations in the Court of Administrative Justice asking for its nullification. Although the Court showed no tendency to nullify the changes, the Centre’s new title has been abandoned in practice.

It is clear that the article 187 scheme has created unnecessary challenges for the Bar Associations and the Directors of the Bar Associations have been forced to allocate much effort to counter the infringement of the Legal Advisors’ Centre. The Bar Associations are extremely concerned about article 187 legal advisors and believe that they constitute a serious threat to the independence of the legal profession as well as of the Bar Associations. In their point of view, under the 187 scheme the body of prosecution and the body of defense are both related and affiliated to the same source i.e. the Judiciary. They view these circumstances as contrary to people’s right to defense which has been foreseen and guaranteed in the constitution and international human rights instruments.

For the Bar Associations, all these pressures have targeted the independence of the Bar and aimed to increase the control of the Judiciary over it. In fact, the article 187 scheme has set the stage for creation of a comprehensive Bill of Attorneyship that purportedly will end the conflicts between the Bar Associations and the Legal Advisors’ Centre. Even the Bar Associations were persuaded that a new ruling is needed to bring the 187 scheme and its legal advisors under the umbrella of the Bar Associations and therefore prepared a draft of the Bill. However, the draft was neglected by the Judiciary and was replaced by a Judiciary-prepared Bill which will end the era of independence of the Bar in Iran. Then, it would be true to say that the article 187 scheme has operated as a “Trojan Horse” with the inherent goal of ending the independence of the Bar.

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Lawyers, Right to counsel