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African countries must meet criteria to host confab – IBA President

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A Briton, Michael  Reynolds was recently elected new President of the International Bar Association(IBA).  A former Vice- President, Secretary- General, Chair of the Legal Practice Division(LPD) and Chair, of the Anti-Trust and Trade Law Committee of the IBA, will be in office  for two years..

Reynolds, a Visiting Professor in European Law at the University of Durham, Director and Founding member of IBA’s Global Forum in this interview conducted online, spoke on his vision for  global lawyers, plan to visit Nigeria, criteria for appointing QC or SAN, IBA’s involvement in Syria among others.

WHAT are your vision and challenges for the global legal association?

Put simply, my vision is to continue to build the IBA and to increase and strengthen the ties of the legal profession across the globe. We are at a time in world development when connectivity is greater than at any time previously. This provides the opportunity for lawyers in all jurisdictions to contribute towards practical improvements in how the world works.

Nations have legal systems which can differ significantly, and cultural differences that can make business transactions and general interchanges between states difficult. The IBA is uniquely placed to help overcome these particular challenges, because it brings together legal practitioners from across the world to discuss and promote the harmonisation of laws across borders to ease transactions and increase  understanding between people.

Another important and constant challenge is ensuring that younger  lawyers from across the globe develop their careers internationally, that they broaden their knowledge and meet their peers particularly to exchange id
eas and experiences and create international connections.

In your acceptance speech, you promised to strengthen IBA’s engagement with legal profession all over the world including Africa. But why have legal practitioners from North Africa not been active in the activities of the IBA?

Part of the reasons that North Africa’s legal practitioners have not been particularly active in the IBA  is probably due to a language barrier. The working language of the IBA is English while the majority of North African countries are Arabic speaking.

However, more countries are recognising English as  the language of international business, as are a number of lawyers from North Africa. In an ideal world the IBA would be able to translate all literature into all of the world’s languages, but unfortunately this is not feasible.

*Michael  Reynolds
*Michael Reynolds

That said, I would like to see the IBA become more culturally diverse and this is happening already with many of our materials being translated into other  languages and conferences taking place in places like Japan, Russia and Brazil where other languages are used as well as English.

What are the criteria for choosing a hosting country? Looking at IBA’s hosting calendar, the hosting rights have been fixed up till 2016 or 2017. When will again after South Africa  2002?

The criteria to be met by countries wanting to host the IBA Annual Conference, as you would expect, are high. International delegates attending the event have high-level expectations, and as a  responsible event organiser these must be kept at the forefront of considerations when deciding host venues.

Any city is welcome to bid to host the event, but it is essential that the necessary  infrastructure is in place, including a conference centre which can accommodate the thousands of  international lawyers that will attend the Conference, venues large enough to hold the opening and closing parties and law firm receptions throughout the week, good transportation links in terms of international flights and taxis, and a sufficient number of five-star hotels and restaurants.

If a city believes that it can meet the necessary criteria, then, along with other cities it should bid. There are currently no bids received from African cities for the years ahead. The venues for 2019 and 2020 are open and if an African jurisdiction wants to make a proposal it would be welcome but the criteria must be met.

Considering the number of Nigerian delegates at the yearly conference, when will you visit Nigeria?

The IBA is very fortunate to have the loyal support of the Nigerian legal profession which is very much in evidence at the Annual Conference. I am aware that discussions are on-going with the  leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to encourage greater participation of Nigerian IBA  members in the overall activities of the IBA, particularly within the work of the specialist IBA.

Committees. Although at this point dates have not yet been fixed for a meeting with the NBA leadership in Nigeria, I hope to do so at some point within the second year of my tenure.

Long before the open conflict in Syria, IBA set up a Human Right Committee to assess situations including the visit to Alleppo, where are we on the grave situation now vis-a-vis the rights violation? What role can IBA play in resolving the conflict?

In 2011, from 19 to 26 March the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) convened a fact-finding delegation to visit Damascus and Aleppo to investigate the situation in relation to human rights and judicial independence in Syria. Coincidentally, it was the week that popular uprisings started to spread across the country.

Four months later the IBAHRI published a 140-page report, entitled Human Rights Lawyers and Defenders in Syria: A Watershed for the Rule of Law. The Report documents political interference in the courts, an overall lack of judicial  independence in the country, and the repression of freedoms of the people in Syria and of lawyers  trying to assert them.

These lawyers were found to be subject to intense scrutiny and harassment by security officials and were prosecuted by the Syrian authorities, which had resorted to using broad provisions of the Penal Code to clampdown on anyone who dared to speak out against the state.

Violent repression

As the situation in Syria deteriorated and violent repression against protesters and deaths escalated, so did arrests and detention of numerous human rights lawyers. The IBA called on the Syrian regime to engage in a genuine process of reform to improve the rights of the Syrian people, reminded Syria of its obligations under international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights and called on the Syrian Government to comply with these obligations without delay.

In June 2012 after no satisfactory response had been received from the Syrian Bar association to a letter from the IBA Council, the Council voted unanimously to expel the Syrian Bar Association from the IBA because it had failed in its vital role to uphold the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and to work to protect its members from persecution and improper restrictions and infringements.

However, the IBA sincerely hopes to see the Syrian Bar take steps to support and uphold the rule of law in its country. It is somewhat beyond the IBA to attempt to resolve armed conflicts, but the IBAHRI undertakes post-conflict capacity building in the justice sector and we will re-engage once the fighting stops, as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example.

Would you support capital punishment for anyone found guilty of rape in view of the India gang rape case?

There is no doubt that the brutal rape and subsequent death of the 23 year-old student you refer to in India was horrific. However, in line with the UN General Assembly resolutions of recent years, and the practice of most countries in the world, I am a firm believer that the death penalty should be abolished, worldwide.

Miscarriages of justice

There have been far too many miscarriages of justice, where innocent people have been executed by states. In 2008 the Council of the IBAHRI passed a Resolution calling for such abolition and it continues to work in regard of this aim, recommending that all states take steps towards imposing a moratorium.

The US President, Barack Obama, was a Senator from Chicago when the IBA held its annual conference in 2006 in Chicago. Now that another city in the USA, Boston, is warming up to host this year’s conference will you extend an invitation to President Obama to attend, being a legal practitioner including his wife, Michelle?

It would indeed be wonderful to have either Michelle or Barack Obama attend the IBA’s 2013 Annual Conference taking place from the 6th-11th October in Boston. We are currently organising the roster of speakers for the Conference, and have yet to make any announcements, but I know you will find it a most impressive list.

What is the synergy between IBA and United Nation (UN)? Or where can we classify IBA in UN’s structure?

Both the IBA and UN are truly global bodies with inclusivity at the centre of their ideology. When the IBA was established in 1947, towards the end of hostilities of World War II, and shortly after the founding of the UN, it was believed that a ‘Bar of the World’ could make a contribution to post-war reconstruction and assist in bringing about world-wide stability, understanding and peace.

These ambitions are still at the core of the work carried out by each organisation. Recently, I was due to meet with the UN’s Secretary-General to discuss issues of common interest to both of our organisations, particularly issues relating to the rule of law and climate justice, an issue that will be high on my list of priorities during my tenure as IBA President.

However, a rescheduling of the meeting meant that I was unable to be in New York at that particular time. My predecessor, Akira Kawamura, and fellow IBA Officers were able to meet with Mr Ban, as well as Patricia O’ Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs. Our organisations will continue to strengthen ties and work together on areas of mutual concern.

With your wealth of experience in European Anti-Trust practice, what is your advice to lawyers in Africa on the same issue?

There is no doubt that as economic development in Africa soars ahead there will be a great move in many of the African countries for a comprehensive antitrust law as we have in most other parts of  the world. South Africa already has a very well developed antitrust law and tough enforcement.

COMESA has set up a regional antitrust authority in Lilongwe Malawi which has already promulgated regulations for the notification of mergers for advance clearance. So antitrust will become a rapidly developing area of legal practice across Africa and the African law firms will need to organise and equip themselves for the inevitable client demands in this crucial sector.

United Kingdom and Nigeria have provision for appointment of senior lawyers to a privileged status as Queen Counsel (QC) and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) respectively. In your view don’t you think the privilege status is a violation of rights of other lawyers?

How individual countries and bars choose to structure the legal profession is a matter for each and  the IBA represents a wide variety of structures through its member bars. Wherever there are appointments or titles which are seen to confer seniority or to denote excellence, the important universal principle is to ensure that the processes by which recognition is granted are proper and are seen to have the support of the profession and the wider public. Pride and excellence in one’s profession is something that all professionals should aspire to regardless of suffixes. Distinction will always be recognised by peers, anyway.

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