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How an increasing politicised judiciary in Europe and the absence of international human rights mechanisms to improve their situation leads to the the harassment of lawyers.

Event details of Stefanie Lemke on Lawyers in Europe: Advocates of Silenced Voices
Date 5 October 2021
Time 12:00 -13:00

This presentation revolves concerns the harassment of lawyers by an increasingly politicised judiciary in Europe and the failure of international human rights mechanisms to protect them. Addressing the situation of lawyers in Azerbaijan and Russia, this presentation/chapter focuses on countries which, over the last two decades, repeatedly ignored calls of the international community to ensure the rights to a lawyer and an independent judge. In 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders warned that the space for civil society and defenders visibly shrank in certain regions of the world and that more sophisticated forms of silencing their voices were emerging, including the misuse of the judicial system to criminalise and stigmatise their activities.

In Europe, the growing politicisation of judges is illustrated by the Polish Law and Justice Party’s packing of the Constitutional Court and Hungary’s metamorphosis from an admirably independent judiciary to one dominated by Viktor Orbán. As a consequence, lawyers have encountered difficulty in taking cases involving politically sensitive matters. Lawyers representing activists and other regime critics are allowed little time to prepare the defence of their clients, and courts do not observe due process rules in such cases. Lawyers themselves are targeted for their human rights work: they are subjected to threats and attacks, have their licences revoked and are convicted of criminal offences.

Against this backdrop, this presentation/chapter examines the important relationship between lawyers and judges, which is essential to ensuring a fair trial. It provides a contextual study of a sample of European countries, where governments are vested with far-reaching powers and use the judiciary to undermine the work of lawyers. It concludes with a critical assessment of the current international human rights mechanisms to resist judicial harassment of lawyers more effectively.


Stefanie Lemke is a Visiting Professor at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law (IISL), a Research Fellow at University of Oxford/Paris Nanterre University, and a Scientific Expert at the Council of Europe and the European Commission.

Marc de Werd is Senior justice at Amsterdam Appeal Court, Professor of jurisprudence at University of Amsterdam and Member of Council of Europe CCJE.

For more information please contact Roland Pierik (R.Pierik@uva.nl)