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IBA announces winners of 2021 awards
The International Bar Association (IBA) has announced the winners of its four annual Section on Public and Professional Interest (SPPI) awards for 2021. The IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer Award, in recognition of William Reece Smith Jr, is bestowed upon Michael Polak, of the United Kingdom; the IBA Pro Bono Award is received by Geoff Budlender, of South Africa; the IBA Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award, in recognition of Anne-Marie Hutchinson, is given to Beth Michoma, of Kenya; and the IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights is jointly bestowed upon Ludmila Kazak and Maxim Znak, of Belarus. All four awards, sponsored by LexisNexis, were presented by the respective IBA committees during a virtual ceremony on Thursday 28 October, 1315 – 1400 (BST) as part of the IBA Global Showcase.
Watch the Awards ceremony here.
IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer Award
Michael Polak, United Kingdom
Michael Polak is a Barrister at London’s Church Court Chambers and Director of Justice Abroad, a legal organisation which assists UK citizens facing the criminal justice system overseas. Described by his nominator as ‘relentless in the pursuit of justice’, Mr Polak has worked on a number of high-profile criminal and human rights cases over the course of his career to date. Most recently, he represented a young British woman in her appeal against a conviction for public mischief after reporting a gang rape in Cyprus. Further, since September 2016 Mr Polak has been acting, on a pro bono basis, for Bangladeshi Barrister Ahmad Bin Quasem who has been subjected to enforced disappearance. He also successfully applied for mercy for a British national who was originally sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in Myanmar in 2017. In addition to his practice as a barrister, Mr Polak has been involved in national and international initiatives to help those in need. He established Lawyers for Uyghur Rights (LFUR), an organisation which aims to combat the oppression of the Uyghur community by the Chinese state. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Polak started a charitable endeavour called Fuel Our Frontline to deliver groceries to nurses, doctors, hospital cleaners, porters and ambulance drivers at a time when there were shortages. Since the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccinations, Mr Polak has also volunteered his time to vaccinate members of the public.
IBA Pro Bono Award
Geoff Budlender, South Africa
Over the course of a 45-year career in the law, Geoff Budlender’s legal work has helped millions of people in South Africa. He was one of the founders of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), the first public interest law centre in South Africa. During his time there, Mr Budlender undertook cases involving the forced removal of communities, freedom of movement, detention without trial, citizenship, labour rights and consumer abuse. As director of the LRC’s Constitutional Litigation Unit, he challenged the denialist position of the South African government on HIV/AIDS, culminating in the provision of anti-retroviral medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV at birth. As a private practitioner, Mr Budlender has undertaken extensive pro bono work, including bringing a trilogy of cases before the Constitutional Court dealing with post-apartheid property discrimination against married black African women. The last of these cases, concluded in 2021, reportedly affected some 400,000 women. Through his role as Senior Advocate for the non-profit organisation, Equal Education (EE), Mr Budlender has been instrumental in improving the state of South Africa’s public schools. He represented EE pro bono in applications to the High Court to ensure that the government provided legally binding regulations stipulating norms for school infrastructure. As a result of this campaign, EE reports that thousands of schools have received water, electricity and toilets and hundreds of schools made of inappropriate materials have been replaced.
IBA Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award
Beth Michoma, Kenya
Beth Michoma has been recognised for her work advocating for the rights of women and girls and people with disabilities, ensuring that government legislation and policy reform promotes gender equality and economic empowerment for minorities. During her tenure as Council Member of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Chairperson of the LSK Gender Committee, she succeeded in lobbying the Chief Justice of Kenya to advise the President to dissolve parliament on the basis that not more than two thirds of MPs should be of the same gender. Non-compliance with the two thirds gender rule had meant that women were being excluded from political decision-making. Furthermore, Ms Michoma has implemented and developed sexual harassment and bullying policies based on raising awareness, encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward, and improved reporting and accountability mechanisms within law firms. In her role as legislative drafter and legal counsel for the Government of Kenya, she continues to put gender equality at the front and centre of law-making, as well as overseeing a gender-responsive budget. She also seeks to educate local communities about the economic empowerment of women and girls, those with disabilities and marginalised people.
IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights
Ludmila Kazak and Maxim Znak, Belarus
Throughout her 22 years of practice, Ludmila Kazak has represented human rights defenders, journalists, public activists and political prisoners. Most recently she acted as the lawyer for Maria Kolesnikova, member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council formed to oppose President Lukashenko’s rule. Ms Kolesnikova is currently imprisoned after being kidnapped by the authorities. On 24 September 2020 – the day before she was due to appear in court with her client, Ms Kolesnikova - Ms Kazak was detained by three unknown persons, forced into an unmarked car and taken to the Central District Department of Internal Affairs. The Belarusian authorities alleged that she had been detained for her participation in an unauthorised protest in Minsk on 30 August 2020 and failure to obey the command of a police officer. Despite denying that she was at the rally, Ms Kazak was found guilty and fined. On 19 February 2021, Ms Kazak was disbarred from practising law by the Ministry of Justice’s Qualification Commission on Advocacy Issues (the Commission). Her lawyer was not allowed to attend her hearing.
Maxim Znak is a human rights lawyer and presidium member of the Coordination Council in Belarus. He represented ousted opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and was the legal adviser for presidential candidate Viktor Babaryko, who was imprisoned in June 2020 before President Lukashenko’s re-election. On 7 September 2020, Mr Znak expressed his opinion via video stream on the abduction of Ms Kolesnikova and the abuse of power by law enforcement officials in Belarus. On 9 September, his apartment and office were searched, and he was subsequently kidnapped by masked men. Reports state that he managed to text the word ‘masks’ before his phone was confiscated. Mr Znak was charged with ‘seeking to harm national security’ under Part 3 of Article 361 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, and is currently being held in the Investigative Detention Facility No. 1 in Minsk. He has since been accused of ‘conspiracy to seize power’ alongside Ms Kolsnikova – this charge could result in a jail term of up to 12 years. On 18 September, Mr Znak went on hunger strike to expose ‘the absurdity of prosecuting people for freely expressing their opinions’, according to his lawyer Dmitry Laevsky.
Notes to the Editor
- Click here for more information on the SPPI Awards ceremony.
The full programme for the IBA Global Showcase is available here.
Register for the IBA Global Showcase, 25 – 29 October 2021.
The IBA Global Showcase is a week of online sessions bringing together high-profile expert speakers, leading commentators and lawyers from every discipline to discuss the big issues facing the legal profession today
The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working 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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