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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

What is notable in these articles is that the judicial authorities only have the right to refer the case, or apply for appeal to the Disciplinary Court for Attorneys. Article 17 was another powerful means to prevent the Judiciary from revoking Attorneys’ Licenses:

“Since this law comes into force, no attorney can be suspended or barred from the career of attorneyship unless in accordance with a final decision of the Disciplinary Court [for Attorneys].”

The aforementioned Law guaranteed the protection of attorneys against interference and attacks from the State and consequently safeguarded the people’s right to defence. Clearly, the providers and encouragers of the Law realized that attorneys could not perform their crucial role in the justice system without independence.

After the coup d’état of 19 August 1953 which resulted in the collapse of the legal government of Dr. Mosaddeq, a Commission consisting of Members of Iran’s Senate and Parliament was established to re-examine the laws adopted by Dr. Mosaddeq including the “Law of Independence of the Iranian Bar Association”. The Commission ratified the Law, with some minor changes, on 24 February 1955 and later the first election of the Board of Directors of the Bar was held under the new Law. Since then, at least until the 1979 Revolution, the Bar Association functioned as an independent body, even becoming a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) in 1968.

After the Revolution (1979 - 1997)

Following the 1979 Revolution, waves of Islamization and revolutionizing institutions hit all parts of society including the judicial and legal system. The idea of the rule of Islamic Shari’a and re-establishment of Shari’a courts was raised by revolutionary forces and hardliner clerics, and lead by Ayatollah Beheshti, the then Head of the Judiciary. The hardliners perceived the Bar Association and lawyers as a form of opposition to their fundamentalist ideas and subsequently closed down the Bar Association and arrested and imprisoned the majority of the members of the Board of Directors. They also revoked the licenses of a substantial number of lawyers under the pretext of “purging” the lawyers—a process whereby licensed attorneys, whom revolutionaries deemed to be espousing subversive ideas harmful to revolutionary ideals, were stripped of their licenses to practice law. The Bar was eventually reopened on account of international pressure, but for the next 18 years the election of the Board of Directors was stopped and the Bar was directed by a Supervisor who was not elected by attorneys but appointed by the Judiciary.

The last round of elections of the Bar Association’s Board of Directors that would occur before the 1979 Revolution was held on June 10, 1978—in the midst of public protests and struggles against the Pahlavi Regime. Hassan Nazih was elected as the President of the Bar Association. Two years later, on June 10, 1980, attorneys were preparing for the 20th round of the election when the Revolution Council—which functioned as all three Powers (Legislature, Judicature, and Government) of the Revolution—adopted the Law on Purging the Bar Association and forbade the holding of an election until the end of the purging process. According to this law:

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Lawyers, Right to counsel