This precedent is not just another shot at political opponents, but also a public demonstration by the Russian authorities of their monopoly on determining the limits of legal assistance, as well as a clear signal to the entire legal community that it may be independent only to the extent that this “independence” is tolerated by the state.
A group of Russian lawyers called on their colleagues to strike. In their address
, they said that law enforcement and the courts have routinely used “complex methods of persecuting lawyers for their professional activities on trumped-up administrative and criminal charges.” However, the Federal Chamber of Advocates of the Russian Federation (FPA), the highest self-regulatory body of Russian lawyers, did not support
In fact, the FPA, Ministry of Justice and government is focused instead on further encroaching on lawyers’ rights. A bill
envisaging sweeping changes to the Law on Legal Profession and the Bar already passed a first reading in April 2023.Erosion of independence
On October 10, the official newspaper of the FPA reported
that the Government Legislative Commission had prepared amendments to the bill. Both the bill itself and the amendments put forward very dangerous norms that, if adopted, will legislatively make Russian lawyers dependent on the FPA and state bodies.
For example, the bill provides for the development of a so-called Comprehensive Information System of the Russian Bar (CIS AR) – an electronic database officially designed to automate the exchange of information related to the Russian Bar and store the personal data of lawyers, as well as information about their advocacy and clients. The list of what information must be provided will be determined solely by the FPA, and a lawyer will not have the right to refuse to do so.
In addition, law enforcement officials, including from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense and FSB, will have access to the database – it is still hard to say how much – which will contain a huge amount of information constituting attorney-client privilege.
However, the very obligation to share information constituting attorney-client privilege with third parties puts the lawyer in a vulnerable and dependent position, not to mention the risk of leaks of confidential information and its getting into the hands of law enforcement agencies, which could use it to pressure the lawyer and/or his client.
Another important amendment put forward by the Ministry of Justice and supported by the FPA is depriving
status to lawyers who, without “valid reasons” (training, medical treatment, etc.), left Russia for permanent residence elsewhere or for a period of more than one year, “including to unfriendly states
,” and “continue their activities, including those aimed at undermining confidence in the institution of the legal profession.”
It does not take a genius to realize that this is aimed mainly at human rights lawyers who, facing political persecution in Russia, left the country but continue to provide their clients with professional legal assistance. Thus, the Russian authorities, with the support of the FPA, are in effect banning from the profession lawyers who have left Russia and feel safe enough to defend “politically dangerous” clients, while at the same time making lawyers who remain in Russia think twice before taking up “political” cases, lest they fall foul of the government.
Today is no “golden age of the Russian Bar,” as former FPA President Yuri Pilipenko called
it. In fact, we are witnessing the erosion of independent advocacy in Russia, marked by active and principled defense lawyers being squeezed out of the country and the profession, labeled “foreign agents” and now prosecuted in fabricated criminal cases.