Friday, January 19, 2007

Understanding the Role and Value of Lawyering

A deep resonance in American legal community got the statement made by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Mr. Cully Stimson against the law firms defending detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Here are some of his words: "I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms...".

These words stunned almost everybody (you can read several posts from different blogs here or here). A wonderful response came from a Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried. Let me cite here just some of his words (brilliant ones):

"It is the pride of a nation built on the rule of law that it affords to every man a zealous advocate to defend his rights in court, and of a liberal profession in such a nation that not only is the representation of the dishonorable honorable (and any lawyer is free to represent any person he chooses), but that it is the duty of the profession to make sure that every man has that representation."
The reaction in mass media and in legal community forced Cully Stimson to apology for what he had said. Really, he apologized for his words and said:

"I believe firmly that a foundational principle of our legal system is that the system works best when both sides are represented by competent legal counsel... I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs."

So, why do you think I've told this story about the events happening across the ocean? Simply because it shows that even in the countries with strong democracy sometimes even top officials don't understand that lawyers defending accused people play an important role and do a great favour to the whole society. Because when "protecting criminals" they protect democracy and civil society.

And if not everybody understands this in democratic societies imagine how big a lack of such understanding can be in Moldova.

In June 2006 the Prosecutor General's Office stated that it launches criminal prosecution procedures against two attorneys, Ana Ursachi and Roman Zadoinov for "for spreading false information about human rights violations in Moldova". These two lawyers addressed the Amnesty International informing them about the alleged cases of tortures against their clients arrested by police officers.

In the letter to the Bar Association, the General Prosecutor’s Office refers to the Urgent Actions that were issued by the Amnesty International on two cases and claims that there was no evidence of torture in either case. It goes on to say: "In these circumstances the irresponsible and unfounded oppositional behaviour of the lawyers Anna Ursachi and Roman Zadoinov is incomprehensible and questionable…The lawyers have created a bad image for the country internationally using improper methods to defend the interests of their clients." The General Prosecutor’s Office asks the Bar Association to ensure that they use all possible means at their disposal to prevent further damage to the interests of the state (read more on this story at the websites of Amnesty International - here and Transparency International - here).

The Bar Association's reaction was prompt and rigid. It stated that the Moldavian Bar considers such statements made by the Prosecutor General as an impingement on justice (you can read the text of the Bar's statement in Russian here).

This is a case that received a wide publicity and shows the real level of incomprehension by the top state authorities of the role of the Bar, the role of attorneys acting as defenders in criminal cases in building democracy, in helping to build an effective and fair judicial system. Attorneys are still perceived (from the Soviet times) by prosecutors, by many judges as people who impede justice, who help criminals to escape fair and just punishment...

And this is why I started this post by telling a story from the US, a story that shows how strong can be a belief in certain values that even a high official was forced to apologize. As Martin Luther King once said, I have a dream, a dream that one day our state, our officials, our judiciary, our whole society will understand that we need "to protect criminals" in order to be protected from criminals. And that one day it will become the pride of a nation built on the rule of law...

1 Comments:

At Saturday, June 18, 2011 5:55:00 AM, Anonymous digital certificates said...

You are right that even in the countries with strong democracy sometimes even top officials don't understand that lawyers defending accused people play an important role and do a great favour to the whole society. Because when "protecting criminals" they protect democracy and civil society.Really a thoughtful article.

 

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