Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers

What are the Basic Principles

Lawyers play a crucial part in upholding the rule of law. Lawyers protect their clients’ rights to a fair trial, for example. Lawyer for Lawyers is committed to creating a world where lawyers are able to practice independently and in freedom. Our mission to do so is based on the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

What are the Basic Principles?

The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers define the fundamental requirements to guarantee that everyone has access to independent legal counsel. The Basic Principles for example determine that everyone has the right to call upon the assistance of an independent lawyer of their own choice. But they also affirm that lawyers are entitled to practice their profession to their best efforts and in accordance with recognized ethical standards.

The Basic Principles specify both lawyers’ and governments’ rights and duties to ensure a fair trial, including governments’ duties to ensure that:

  • lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;
  • lawyers have access to the information, files and documents required to provide their clients with effective legal assistance;
  • there is no discrimination based on grounds like race, sex, religion or political preference with respect to the possibility to become a lawyer;
  • lawyers are not identified with their clients as a result of discharging their functions;
  • communications between lawyers and clients are recognized as confidential.

Broad support

The Basic Principles were established by the United Nations in 1990. The Basic Principles are considered to be a “soft-law” instrument (as opposed to “hard law”): they are not legally binding. However, the Basic Principles are held in high regard and are broadly accepted. For instance, the United Nations, several non-governmental organisations and (regional) courts of justice refer to the Basic Principles. Furthermore, some consider that the Basic Principles can be qualified as a material source of law, or even as a reflection of international customary law. The rights included in the Basic Principles are also largely included in binding international or regional human rights treaties, including:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment and Punishment;
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • European Convention on Human Rights;
  • American Convention on Human Rights;
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Content Basic Principles

The 29 Basic Principles provide a number of rights for individuals as well as obligations for governments. For example, the Basic Principles prescribe that all persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to assist them when confronted with criminal proceedings. The Basic Principles also state that governments should ensure the provision of sufficient funding and other resources for legal services to the poor and/or to other disadvantaged persons.

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Information on the Basic Principles, including literature and case law, is fragmented and not easily accessible. Lawyers for Lawyers seeks to alter this and has created this database to remedy the situation. The database contains documents in which references are made to the Basic Principles, such as documents of the UN, special rapporteurs, non-governmental organisations, (regional) courts and so on. Lawyers for Lawyers hopes that the availability of the information contained in the database might help raise the legal status of the Basic Principles and make them more widely known.

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