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Iranian Bar Associations: Struggle for Independence

Although it resulted in a reopening of the Bar Association, the appointment of Jahromi in this manner was a clear violation of the Law of Independence, according to which the Chairperson of the Bar should be a member of the Board of Directors and elected by the vote of other members (art. 5). Moreover, the Chairperson should meet the conditions set out in the same law, such as having practised a minimum of ten years as an attorney (art. 4). However, Mr. Eftekhar Jahromi had received his license just less than 5 years earlier (July 5, 1979) and therefore did not satisfy the requirement.  Despite this seeming ineligibility, Jahromi chaired the Bar Association for the next fourteen years. Given his numerous outside engagements however, he could not devote much time to the Bar and his deputy, Davoud Fatemi, performed the bulk of the Chair’s duties.

During the period after the Revolution, in the vacuum of law and revolutionary radicalism that was pervasive at the time, basic rights of accused persons (such as the right to counsel) were denied and attorneys strained to exercise their professional duties. During the first decade after the Revolution, for example, some court branches, particularly the Revolutionary Courts, used to put a sign at their doors that read: “We do not accept attorneys”. On other occasions, as still applies, they might refuse to grant attorneys access to their clients or the dossier. It was in fact believed that attorneyship was an unnecessary institution which would merely create doubts and ambiguities in judicial cases and bother the judge.

In such circumstances the independence of the Bar was weakened in practice and as a result the Bar could not protect its members nor protest against the injustice and mass violations of human rights carried out, often gratuitously, in the name of Islam and the Revolution. However, the independence of the Bar survived in theory, namely in the Law of Independence. Moreover, the efforts undertaken by attorneys gradually changed the treatment of Courts and they accepted defence lawyers, at least in court cases for ordinary crimes, i.e. crimes other than those falling in the jurisdiction of Revolutionary Courts such as crimes against national security.

In 1990, the Bill of “Selection of Attorney by Parties to a Lawsuit” was drafted and proposed by 84 Members of Parliament which played an important role in the revival of the role and function of attorneyship in Iran. According to the Bill all courts and judicial bodies were obliged to accept lawyers and cooperate with them. In a general meeting of Parliament on December 26, 1990, Ghasem Sho’leh Sa’adi[5]—one of the drafters of the Bill who was a lawyer himself—stated: “in some of the Courts and Prosecutor’s Offices, such as the Revolutionary Courts and Prosecutor’s Office, it happens that the attorneys are not accepted. This practice is against the Shari’a rules and the Constitution.” Seyed Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi was another MP who spoke in favor of the Bill and, referring to international criticisms, declared the bill to be in the interest of the IRI Regime:

“I used to be the Head of the Revolutionary Courts and Prosecution Offices. I believe that, if not 100 percent, more than 90 percent of Prosecution Offices and Courts obey the laws and their judgments and convictions are based on admissible documents.
However, when it is reputed that the Revolutionary Courts and Prosecution Offices and Special Courts [for Clergy] do not accept the attorneys, it creates a question outside the country amongst those who do not believe in such Shari’a Courts; and it makes them assert that these courts ignore the laws. We know that our courts are following Shari’a and our judges may never issue the baseless judgments as I know the majority of the judges. So, let’s disarm the foreigners and take their subject of propaganda. There is nothing more urgent than the respectability of the Islamic Regime.”
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Lawyers, Right to counsel