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More Than 12,000 Lawyers In Iran Reject Move To Dismantle Bar Association

A group of Iranian lawyers at an event marking independence of Lawyers' Bar Association. March 1, 2018. FILE photo

More than 12,000 Iranian lawyers have protested to a draft bill that undermines their independence and in effect replaces the Iranian Bar Association with a group of judiciary officials appointed by the government.

Based on the draft the Judiciary will form a new body named the "Supreme Council for the Coordination of Lawyers' Affairs" that will be based at the Judiciary branch of the government "to coordinate matters relating to attorneys."

Iranian lawyers have been struggling for independence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that, among other things, put clerics with no legal training or formal law education on top of the Judiciary branch.

Even some of those appointed as Chief Justice, prosecutors and judges in the post-1979 Iran have never been to a law school. In the meantime, the government has refused to respect the independence of attorneys and has put dozens of lawyers in jail for insisting on legal principles and citizens' rights.

Iran's legal system is based mainly on Shiite religious rules, however, untrained or hardliner clerics serving as judges have been often accused of issuing arbitrary verdicts leading to sentences disproportionate with what people have done.

In a letter to the head of the Islamic Republic's Judiciary, the lawyers called for abandoning the new draft regulations, stressing that the it "is against the interests of the country's legal system and the will of the lawyers' community, and will not be accepted by Iranian legal practitioners."

Earlier, in a letter to the heads of the three branches of government the lawyers had called the new regulations "a blatant violation of the law."

They also described the move by the judiciary as "devastating for the independence of the Bar Association and distorting the procedures of fair legal investigations."

The Iranian Judiciary argues that two of the individuals selected by the government will "represent the lawyers."

Since the downfall of the monarchy, and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the independence of the country's lawyers has been restricted at various degrees in different periods.

Among the latest cases is the Article 48 of the new Code of Criminal Procedure. The clause presents the head of the judiciary as the sole authority to appoint lawyers for defending suspects in preliminary stages of cases relating to internal and extraterritorial security of the Islamic Republic.

Consequently, the head of the judiciary has issued a list of his "trusted lawyers" to the courts. The move has prompted widespread criticism and protests from thousands of legal experts and attorneys out of the list.