Cancellation of membership fees and freedom of movement: support for lawyers in the context of the pandemic was discussed at SPBILF

How lawyers can continue their work during the fight against the coronavirus and what measures are taken by countries to support them were the topics discussed by Russian and international experts at “Pandemic and Legal Profession: Who Wins?” session at St. Petersburg International Legal Forum 9½.

At the opening of the discussion, Yuri Pilipenko, President of the Russian Federal Bar Association, stressed that despite the difficult working conditions during the pandemic, the bar should draw attention of the government to the rule of law.

He also noted that the most frightening thing in the crisis situation is an unclear future after the coronavirus. Moreover, even before the pandemic, lawyers had never been guaranteed 100% employment. "The Russian Federal Bar Association, being aware of the financial difficulties and the situation in which Russian lawyers found themselves, addressed the state with a request to include lawyers into the support measures package provided for small and medium businesses. The Ministry of Justice supported us. We also expect a positive response on this issue from the Government just next week," said the President of the Russian FBA.

In addition, according to Yuri Pilipenko, some of the regional bars of lawyers have decided to temporarily reduce the size of membership fees, and they are also ready to defer payments and even on an individual basis exempt from them lawyers who are in a difficult financial situation.

Anar Bagirov, Chairman of the Bar Association of the Republic of Azerbaijan, spoke about the work of the Bar Association in his country. "Lawyers do not have any problems with movement. The Cabinet of Ministers issued a decision of 2 April, according to which lawyers are among the most important professions that have the right to move freely if they provide a certificate confirming the status of a lawyer. I believe this is very important, as every citizen in the country should have the right to receive qualified legal assistance. During pandemics, in difficult periods of history, people need it even more," stressed the lawyer.

Maria Bonon, Adviser of the Committee on European and International Affairs, French National Bar Council, noted that one of the main achievements of the French Bar was receiving additional payments for independent lawyers with minor children in the amount equal to the benefits of civil servants.

However, the expert stressed that French lawyers had already suffered material losses as they entered the pandemic crisis immediately after a three-month strike against the pension reform law. "Appointed attorneys suffered financially because in practice their only income had been payments received from the state for handling cases. But after three months of the nation-wide strike - 100% of lawyer associations were on strike - we immediately went into a state of emergency and, unfortunately, the financial position of our legal system was already in a very bad state: the judges complained about the lack of funds. And even then a lot of cases were postponed till 2021," added Maria Bonon.

President of the Law Society of England and Wales Simon Davis observed that the transfer of courts to remote work and the closure of prisons for visits had posed a serious problem for lawyers. “All the judges use Skype for business. That is the main role. But the real challenge is when you need to take instructions and talk to your client, the defendant who is sitting in a jail. If that person is on a Skype call, you can hardly say: “What do you think?” You have to go and have a separate call from a separate room, with a different Skype system. It happens, still carries on, but it’s very-very slow”, concluded Simon Davis.

The expert also added that despite the pandemic, "the wheels of justice in the world must spin", and lawyers need to uphold the rule of law, help facilitate deals, and protect people's rights.

St. Petersburg International Legal Forum 9 ½: The Rule of Corona is held online from April 10 to 12. Heads of Russian and international authorities, lawyers, researchers, politicians and journalists will take part in virtual discussions. The main topic of the forum is legal aspects of public and business life in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.