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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

They believed that the Regulations would take the Bar Associations back to six decades ago when they were operating under the direct supervision of the Judiciary. The objections of the Bar Associations and international organizations urged the new Head of the Judiciary to order the suspension of the Regulations for a period of six months. So far, the suspension order has been renewed twice for six-month periods each. It would be fair to say that three times of suspension show that the Regulations, even in the eyes of the providers, are not enforceable.

Additionally, in September 2009, the Iranian Union of the Bar Associations filed a complaint in the Court of Administrative Justice asking for the nullification of the new Regulations. However the Court did not show a tendency to do so. Instead, in December 2010, clearly reluctant to rule against its superior authority, the Court denied its jurisdiction to nullify the rulings provided by the Head of the Judiciary. The decision was quite awkward since the same Court, just several months earlier, had accepted and heard another complaint against the “Regulations of the Attorney Fees” approved by the Head of Judiciary.[18] However, realizing that something more powerful than regulations were needed, the Judiciary proposed the new Bill of Attorneyship which will be discussed in more detail in the following chapter. In another attack to the legal profession, on March 2, 2010 the Supreme Court issued its leading decision number 714, according to which, the requirement of intervention of an attorney in civil cases was dismissed. It was in fact contrary to the constitutional duties and general policies of the Judiciary to expand the legal services and facilitate the public access to legal counsel in order to lower the rate of baseless and flawed cases.

Furthermore, following the 2009 election, many attorneys and mainly those engaged with human rights related cases, were targeted for harassment and unfair prosecution as a result of practicing their profession.[19] However, as a result of the aforementioned attacks and pressures, the Bar Associations, namely their Board of Directors, have preferred to remain silent and could not protect the professional and individual rights of their members. Specifically, when on May 29, 2011, Nasrin Sotoudeh, the prominent attorney and human rights defender who was sentenced to 6 years in prison and barred from practicing law for 20 years, was taken in handcuffs from prison to the Head Quarters of the Central Bar Association in Tehran in order to attend the Disciplinary Court, the Board of the Bar Association did not publicly object to this unfair and unjust treatment of one of their members.

New Bill of Attorneyship

In recent years, the idea of a new comprehensive Law of Attorneyship was being pursued by Parliament and on November 23, 2010, 153 Members of Parliament had proposed the “Bill of Attorneyship”. It would be fair to say that the Bill was intended to end the conflicts between the Bar Associations and Article 187 Legal Advisors’ Centre and bring the legal advisors under the umbrella of the Bar Associations. Moreover, the providers of the Bill believed that the current laws of attorneyship were outdated and the new law could address the new developments and needs of the legal profession. However, the independence of the Bar Associations had not been guaranteed in the Bill and, for example, the Judiciary would still be the body responsible for discernment of competence of the Directors of the Board.

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Lawyers, Right to counsel