By Dayo Benson (who was in Washington)
AT the time the curtain fell on 2016 International Bar Association (IBA) Annual Conference in Washington D.C, on September 23, lawyers who attended were better educated on issues of concern to the profession globally. For the Bar and the Bench, conferences at home and abroad are vistas of fresh ideas, challenges and continued legal education that expands the frontiers of practices.
They are also fora for agenda setting. The just concluded IBA conference which held at Mariott Wardman ParkWashington, United States combined all these. The six-day event which began September 18, attracted lawyers across the world. Nigerian delegates, as usual, out numbered others.
Ahead of their arrival, pre-registered delegates were inundated with e-mails on procedures for collecting conference bags and opening ceremony itinerary.The information made activities at the collection centre seamless despite the large turn out of attendees.
Delegates savoured the first IBA hospitality in style. They were conveyed to the Walter W Washington Convention Centre of the opening ceremony in giant luxury buses to welcoming tunes of flutists.
Preservation of the Rule of Law
Conferees streamed down an escalator into the dimly lit sprawling hall with life size screens.IBA President David Rivkin, gave introductory remarks that encapsulated discussions and presentations that were to come. His message was poignant and unambiguous.
“Since its founding in 1947, the IBA has been dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Rule of Law throughout the world. Today, as we face many new challenges to the Rule of Law around the world, it is important to remember that it is neither a new concept nor one rooted only in the tradition of some countries. The Rule of Law is an ancient and universal concept. As early as the 5th century BC, China developed and advocated the philosophy of legalism — a political system based on laws,” he said.
In ancient Greece, Plato wrote, “Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the Gods shower on the state.”
The IBA chairman further said: “As you know, earlier this year the IBA Council adopted the IBA Practical Guide for Business Lawyers on Business and Human Rights. To serve our clients effectively these days, lawyers must understand the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and similar documents. And no matter what our practice area, we must advise our clients in a manner that assists them in avoiding human rights impacts and promotes their, and our, integrity.”
He added: “The IBA’s Presidential Initiatives have taken many important, practical steps towards solving some of our most difficult problems. Thanks to the time that many of you took in completing our survey on judicial corruption, our Judicial Integrity Initiative published an enormously useful report on the types of corruption that arise in judicial systems and the manner in which such corruption occurs. Building from that base, the Judicial Integrity Initiative is now undertaking many projects designed to have a practical impact in reducing corruption in judiciaries where it occurs.”
Speaking on experiences of lawyers in countries where rule of law has gone on recess, he said, ”This has been a challenging year for lawyers around the world. We have seen lawyers and judges imprisoned, disbarred and removed from office in China, Turkey, Venezuela, Egypt and elsewhere.
In Pakistan, we have witnessed the premeditated slaughter of lawyers who had come to a hospital in respect of a bar leader who had been previously assaulted. Those who want to rule autocratically know that they have to intimidate and remove lawyers who will use the rule of law to oppose them.
“As lawyers who have been fortunate enough to be successful in our practices, we have an obligation to defend them, to speak out, to make clear that this cannot stand. As IBA President, I have used the power of the office to speak directly to those who suppress lawyers and freedom. All of us have the power to do so, as individuals, collectively or through our bars, and we must do so.”
On the need for justice, he added: “As lawyers who have been fortunate enough to be successful in our practices, we have an obligation to defend them, to speak out, to make clear that this cannot stand. All of us have the power to do so, as individuals, collectively or through our bars, and we must do so.
Our Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, little knowing that he would one day be the subject of perhaps the most successful musical in Broadway history, wrote in the Federalist Papers, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued until it be obtained, or liberty be lost in the pursuit.”
International Monetary Fund(IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, actually set the tone for discussions at the opening ceremony with her keynote speech on debilitating effects of corruption in public and private sectors worldwide.
She was introduced by IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis. Lagarde, a lawyer, dwelt on micro economic consequences of corruption. The kernel of her submissionwas that the scourge was capable of stunting nations’ growth if not curbed.As she put it ,”Corruption undercuts countries’ efforts to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth. How? Think about the following three channels.
“First, by weakening fiscal capacity . When citizens feel that wealthy individuals are able to avoid paying taxes through bribes, it delegitimizes the whole system. And not surprisingly, other people decide not to comply, which undermines the ability of the state to raise revenue. At the same time, government spending becomes skewed towards areas with greater opportunities for graft – such as public procurement for construction projects”.
The opening ceremony was concluded with a visit to the International Museum of the American Indian where delegates were treated to a mixture of oriental and western cocktails and Indian American cultural dancers who added colour to the occasion. Nearby National Air and Space Museum was also visited. As the night grew darker, all had unwound preparatory to the serious business of the following day.
“Corruption in the judiciary and how to eradicate it was the major issue on day two. Presentations revolved around the topic. Combating judicial corruption: the keys to an effective judicial system”.
Speakers who were mainly drawn from the bench were Justice Martin Daubney Supreme Court of Queensland,Australia; (Chair Judges Forum), Claudia Dumas Transparency International, Washington DC, Laura Kovesi National Anti Corruption Directorate, Bucharest, Romania, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon Supreme Court Singapore, Carine Smith Iheanacho , London and Rasmus Wandall International Association of Prosecutors, The Hague, The Netherlands.
According to Singapore Chief Justice, Menon: “development is key to the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of social justice. Corruption seriously thwarts these goals. And nowhere is it more pernicious than when the judiciary, which is the guardian of the rule of law, is corrupt.”
IBA president Rivkin added that “When there is corruption in the judicial system that means lawyers are involved and as the world’s leading association of lawyers we have some responsibility to fix that. The IBA is in a privileged position to take steps that other organisations cannot.”
Practice of law
One of the sessions that had a large number of Nigerian lawyers in attendance was that which focused on the need to regulate practice of law across countries. Plateau State Governor, Simeon Lalong, was among the audience.
Participants at the session which included present and past bar leaders from U.S, U.K, East Africa and Nigerian IBA officials dwelt on the need for regulation in practice of legal profession by foreigners in other countries.
While agreeing that the environment in the foreign countries should not be over-regulated, they stressed that such lawyers should partner with their counterparts in the countries where they desired to practice. They also recommended training and the need for globalisation of practice. Undoubtedly, the key note speech by the highly cerebral United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch, was the highlight of day four presentations.
Lynch who earned the name ‘FIFA hunter’ after successfully prosecuting the recent bribery sleaze in FIFA lived up to her calling as American chief law officer. She spoke on various issues including police killings of black Americans, international corruption, rights violation, cyber crimes, human trafficking and terrorism. She stressed the need for global cooperation in fighting what she described as a threat to humanity. She, however, emphasized that “law should not be a tool of oppression but part of the bulwark of liberty”.
The major presentation of day five was the USA’s long arm of Justice and what it means to the world. The discussions focused on the propriety of the United States to extend its jurisdiction far beyond its own shores, with recent high-profile examples including LIBOR and FIFA, and some long-standing controversies, such as Guantanamo.
The Session was chaired by Jonathan Grimes of London. The day’s event was rounded off with a visit to World Bank building by pre-registered delegates.
The last day of the conference was for young lawyers despite the fact that most people had left. The story of IBA 2016 Annual Conference is incomplete without reference to the varieties of sumptuous meals served at lunch time and the spicy breakfast and tea breaks. There were many souvenir items that would keep the conference memory fresh until the 2017 edition in Sydney, Australia.Until then, many will keep in touch with new contacts and friends made.