In recent years the UK legal profession has come under fire from all angles; attacked by the government and the media as out of touch and ill-at-ease with the concerns of everyday people. Being a lawyer is by no means easy in this country, but looking overseas puts things somewhat into perspective. PBI and the Alliance for Lawyers at risk have supported initiatives in countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia where being a lawyer means daily attacks, threats and intimidation. We may struggle to precisely define the ‘rule of law’ in a varied and changing world, but the freedom of lawyers to return home to their families without being murdered is surely the first step.
CCAJAR lawyer and Sir Henry Brooke Award winner 2020 Reinaldo Villalba (photo by Manu Valcarce)
Around one in three of the human rights defenders PBI works with are lawyers, and many more provide legal advice and paralegal support alongside other work. Over the past year, PBI has been working with its network of pro bono lawyers to identify the barriers to the work of human rights defenders working to protect the rule of law, and how to best strengthen their capacities so they can overcome them. Together, we identified a pressing need to digitise our current support, and the need to provide tailored capacity-building training and mentoring schemes, and knowledge-sharing best practice platforms for defenders working to defend the rule of law.
To commemorate Day of the Endangered Lawyer we wanted to reflect on the privileges that lawyers in the UK enjoy and put a spotlight on the human rights lawyers paying a higher price to defend the rule of law in other regions. They risk their lives every day to support the rule of law, and build global respect for justice and civil liberties. We invited a selection of representatives from the legal and political sectors to reflect on the importance of the rule of law, what it means to be a lawyer in a rapidly changing world and how to mobilise the resources of the international legal community to support lawyers at risk.
The webinar featured a screening of the latest film produced by Manu Valcarce on the rule of law and the risks faced by lawyers around the world: “Defending the Rule of Law: Costs and Privileges”. This film discusses the fundamental importance of the rule of law, and of effective justice systems, in upholding human rights and protecting the vulnerable. It also speaks to the specific dangers faced by lawyers around the world who are threatened for their human rights work.
Our panel discussed the challenges faced by lawyers in countries where the rule of law is weak and will present a perspective from the field, by hearing from paralegals and lawyers from Colombia, Nepal and Kenya. We also spoke to representatives of the UK legal, political and diplomatic spheres to hear their thoughts on the role of the UK government and the legal community in supporting lawyers at risk, and what the international community can do to strengthen the rule of law and human rights around the world.
Defending the Rule of Law: Costs and Privileges
Lord Phillips, first president of the UK Supreme Court, introduced the webinar before running through the order of the night and presenting the film Defending the Rule of Law: Costs and Privileges.
Panel 1: Perspectives from the field
Former chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee and Head of International Human Rights Team at Doughty Street Chambers, Kirsty Brimelow QC introduced our first panel, who will address the obstacles to upholding the rule of law, risks faced by lawyers, and structural changes to the profession over the past year.
Colombian human rights lawyer German Romero
Kenyan Human rights paralegal Stephen Kinuthia Mwangi
Nepalese human rights lawyer Mandira Sharma
Former UK ambassador to Colombia and Cuba and PBI UK patron John Dew
Panel 2: The Rule of Law and the International Community
Simmons & Simmons partner and Lawyers Against Poverty member Chris Owen introduced our next panel, with a focus on support and capacity building from the legal and the political community to lawyers and other rule of law defenders.
Richard Lord QC (Action 4 Justice)
Emma Lough (Lawyers Against Poverty)
Sue Willman (Law Society of England and Wales/ Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group)
PBI UK Director Susi Bascon
Q&A followed by final remarks from Lord Phillips
You can read the full profiles of each speaker here.