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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

Mohammad Hossein Nayyeri


The right to defence is recognised by Iranian law and prescribed in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Article 35 of the IRI’s Constitution stipulates: “Both parties to a lawsuit have the right in all courts of law to select an attorney, and if they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made to provide them with legal counsel.” Other laws, too, such as Iran’s Law of Attorneyship and even the Iranian Criminal Procedure Code, have stipulated the right to counsel and defence.

According to internationally accepted standards, not only is an individual guaranteed the right to counsel and a defence, but those services should be provided through an independent legal profession.  The preamble of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers[1] reads, in pertinent part:

“Whereas adequate protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all persons are entitled, be they economic, social and cultural, or civil and political, requires that all persons have effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession” 

Moreover, referring to "self-governing" professional associations which shall be able to "exercise its functions without external interference", article 24 of the Principles stipulates that:

“Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests, promote their continuing education and training and protect their professional integrity. The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by its members and shall exercise its functions without external interference.”

In addition, according to the Law of Independence of the Iranian Bar Association, the Bar was given independence since 1953. Article 1 of the said law stipulates: "[t]he Bar Association is an independent body with a legal personality...". The Bar Association has struggled to exercise that right for the last 60 years. However, especially following Iran’s 1979 Revolution, the restrictions made by the IRI on lawyers and their professional associations have damaged their independence and consequently threatened people’s right to defence. The purpose of this article is to examine the fluctuations of the Bar Association in Iran and its developments since it was formed.

The Iranian Bar Association is comprised of 22 different associations—and the Central Bar Association in Tehran is the largest and primary one. These Iranian Bar Associations have undergone different stages of development since their formation and this commentary will examine those stages in chronological order. Therefore, this article will first offer a glimpse into the formation of the Bar Association and its independence. Then it will address the period of the 1979 Revolution and the treatment of Bar Associations and attorneys by revolutionary authorities. Next, it will survey the Laws and Regulations adopted to limit the independence of the Bar Associations and increase the control of the Judiciary. In addition, the creation of a new breed of dependent lawyers (legal advisors) will be explored. The article will analyze the period following the disputed June 2009 Presidential election in Iran and the new Bill of Attorneyship which has been prepared by the Judiciary and aims to effectively end the independence of the legal profession. Finally, this article mentions, in brief, the latest developments concerning a judicial order that ordered the closure of the Union of Bar Associations.

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Lawyers, Right to counsel