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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

Establishment of Independence (1911 – 1979) 

Prior to the Constitutional Revolution [enqelāb-e-mashruteh] in Iran in 1906[2], claims were brought before the clergy, who were not bound to any law and procedure, save for their own self-governing Shari’a rules and Islamic jurisprudence. Even after the emergence of modern laws in Iran, the newly formed judiciary kept functioning as Shari’a-based courts. In 1866 the compilation of modern laws through translation of foreign laws began. Subsequently, the modern courts were established and the judges and public prosecutors began their careers. In 1911 the First Charter of Attorneyship was adopted which mandated that attorneys take part in qualification examinations in order to practice the law.

However, attorneys did not have their own association until November 11, 1930 when the then Minister of Justice (Ali Akbar Dāvar) gathered attorneys together and the first core of the Bar Association was established. In those days, attorneys and their Association functioned under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice and a Department in the Ministry (edāreh-ehsāeiyeh) was responsible for the issuance and renewal of attorney’s licenses. Six years later the Law of Attorneyship (14/2/1937) was adopted and, pursuant to article 18, the Bar Association was granted legal personality:

Article 18- “The Bar Association is an organization with legal personality which is subject to regulations and management of the Ministry of Justice but independent in its incomes and expenses.”

Nevertheless, according to article 21 of the same law, the Board of Directors of the Bar Association should be selected by the Ministry of Justice—and the Chairperson of the Bar might be selected from the judicial or administrative staff of the Ministry of Justice. However, it was the first time that a law referred to the Bar Association as an “independent” entity, albeit only on the narrow issue of “incomes and expenses”. 15 years later, the Association’s powers graduated from partial financial independence to full independence of the institution.

Following the establishment of the Bar but prior to the adoption of the law of independence, George Mouris, the then-President of the International Bar Association, visited Iran and in a conversation with Mr. Hashem Vakil, the Chairperson of Iran’s Central Bar Association, asked about the selection of attorneys and issuance of their licences in Iran. When he heard that the Justice Ministry is the body responsible for the selection of lawyers, he replied: “So, you are still minors who need a guardian. Then I will not talk to you until you become mature”—an obvious, and chiding, reference to the fact that the Bar still lacked independence.[3] This answer weighed heavily on the directors of the Bar Association and encouraged them to engage in a more ardent struggle for independence.

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Lawyers, Right to counsel