Lawyers plan to sue Baku city authorities

Baku City Executive Authority

Baku City Executive Authority

The Group of Practicing Lawyers is planning to sue the Baku City Executive Authority for not allowing them to hold a rally, according to a statement. The group claims that the rejection of their appeal violates their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

On 6 November, the Group of Practicing Lawyers sent an appeal to the Baku City Executive Authority for permission to hold a rally protesting new amendments to Azerbaijan's legal code. The amendments, set to go into effect 1 December, restrict the right to represent clients in court only to members of the Bar Association. The rally was planned to take place on 18 November at Mahsul Stadium with up to 5,000 participants, but the appeal was rejected.

"In the response, as the main reason [for the rejection], it is noted that the laws have already been passed and signed by the president, and it is considered inappropriate to express any opinion about them,” the group’s statement reads. “The second reason cited – which is really just a pretext - is the approximate number of expected participants. The Executive Authority claims that the figure of 500 to 5,000 indicated in our appeal is vague and therefore it does not allow them to provide security.”

"Not only did the Executive Authority interfere with our right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly without any legal grounds,” the statement continues, “they also said that it is inappropriate to express any opinion about the draft law altogether. We believe that this phrase reveals the true nature of the rejection.”

On 31 October, Azerbaijan's parliament passed amendments to the legal code banning non-Bar lawyers and lay practitioners from representing clients in court. The changes are set to go into effect 1 December this year.

The Group of Practicing Lawyers launched a campaign against the new amendments while they were still being debated in parliament. In a brief, the group claimed that banning non-Bar lawyers and lay practitioners from representing clients in court will result in a “strong monopoly” of the “government-controlled” Bar Association, and a drastic decrease in the “number of available lawyers who can represent litigants before courts.”

According to the brief, there are about 900 Bar Association lawyers in Azerbaijan. That means that Azerbaijan has 9-10 lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants, as opposed to the European average of 165, over 16 times greater. Of those 900 Bar Association lawyers, only 200 work outside of Baku.

Despite the rejection of their appeal, the Group of Practicing Lawyers says they will continue their campaign. According to their latest statement, “the group is campaigning against the amendments in different forms (interviews, alternative proposals, critical articles, social media activities) and, regardless of whether the rally is held or not, it intends to continue those activities.”

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