Myanmar’s legal profession moves to establish a national bar association

Myanmar’s legal profession has taken a significant step towards establishing an independent, representative national bar association by forming an inclusive interim committee to steer its creation. This measure follows a three-day legal seminar recently held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, which was organised by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and hosted by the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law and Tranquillity. Lawyers from across 12 of Myanmar’s 15 administrative divisions attended the event.

On the concluding day of the seminar a final statement, endorsed by the majority of participants, was read to the plenary group: ‘Bar leaders, practitioners, and networks of lawyers in attendance at the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute seminar on Bar Associations’ best practises, 13–15 February 2014, have agreed to run broad consultations with all groups, with the view to form an independent, representative national bar association for Myanmar. An interim committee is being formed today to disseminate outcomes and information from the seminar and to facilitate the formation of an inclusive steering committee that will guide the establishment of a national bar association. The IBAHRI, in close cooperation with foreign bar associations, NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and intergovernmental organisations, will help facilitate the process of forming a national bar association for Myanmar.’

International Bar Association (IBA) President Michael Reynolds, who opened the event attended by more than 180 participants, commented, ‘The recommendation to establish a independent national bar association came from some of the nation’s leading lawyers, following long and heated debate. The IBAHRI seminar is the first time that so many lawyers in Myanmar have assembled to learn about the role of a bar association and to discuss the development of the country’s legal profession. One delegate remarked “we have been waiting 30 years for this”’. Mr Reynolds concluded, ‘While many challenges lie ahead, Myanmar’s lawyers have taken the first important steps to establish an independent representative bar association and we will fully support their endeavours.’

Commenting on the next steps, IBA Executive Director and seminar speaker Mark Ellis said, ‘The success and legitimacy of the process to establish an independent national bar for Myanmar depends on the endorsement of Myanmar’s legal profession as a whole. The inclusiveness of all legal practitioners, networks and groups in Myanmar is of paramount importance and we urge those present at the seminar to engage in consultation with colleagues at their respective bar associations, lawyer networks, groups and communities on this important issue.’ He added, ‘To assist the Myanmar legal profession, the IBA will seek engagement with all relevant stakeholders, including the Myanmar Government and Parliament, and notably the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law and Tranquillity. We place our expertise in developing bar associations at Myanmar’s legal profession’s disposal.’

The first meeting of the bar association steering committee will be organised by the IBAHRI and take place on 22 March 2014. At this gathering, a small group of representatives appointed by regional bar associations and other lawyers’ groups will work together to formulate a draft strategy for the establishment of the bar association. The committee will discuss and propose timeframes for deciding the objectives of the association; its structure and governance; a code of ethics; and potential sources of funding. The committee members, with support from IBAHRI, will then be directed to consult with their respective bar associations, lawyers’ groups and networks in their states and regions on the proposals to ensure the association is designed in accordance with the needs and wishes of the entire profession. This process will eventually lead towards the convening of an annual general meeting at which all stakeholders democratically elect the executive committee and by laws of the bar association.

Notes to the Editor

  1. The IBAHRI legal seminar took place 13–15 February 20014 at the Royal Kumudra Hotel, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, and included representatives from international organisations and civil society. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gave a keynote address on the first day of the event, followed by the President of the IBA, Michael Reynolds.
  2. On the second day of the event, international and regional speakers addressed a plenary session entitled ‘Bar Association’s Best Practices: An International and Regional Approach’. Speakers included: Dr Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director; Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, Immediate Past-President of the Law Society of England and Wales; Lim Chee Wee, Immediate Past-President of the Malaysian Bar Association; Margery Nicoll, Deputy Secretary-General and Director of the Law Council of Australia International Division; Colin Wright, Council Member of the Hong Kong Bar Association; and Shirley Pouget, IBAHRI Senior Programme Lawyer.
  3. The third and final day of the event comprised breakout sessions led by national and international facilitators. Eight groups of 16–20 delegates formed to discuss issues around independence, governance, objectives, ethics, and bar associations’ codes of conduct.
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, US, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court Programme (IBA ICC) is managed from an office in The Hague.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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