IBA President says FACTI report recommendation would undermine independence of the legal profession

Friday 26 February 2021

The president of the International Bar Association (IBA) Sternford Moyo has said that a recommendation, contained in a report published today, that governments should regulate lawyers in line with ‘the demands of sustainable finance and the public interest’ is concerning. At the publication’s launch, Mr Moyo addressed a panel of high-ranking United Nations Member States’ representatives with his reservations.

The new report on barriers to achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is authored by FACTI – the High Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda, which was launched in March 2020 by the President of the United Nations General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and the President of the UN Economic and Social Council Mona Juul, and co-chaired by the former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, and the former president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite.

Sternford Moyo

FACTI is mandated to explore further actions that may be needed by the international community to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including in the areas of: financial and beneficial ownership transparency; tax matters; bribery and corruption; money laundering; confiscation and disposal of the proceeds of crime; and the recovery and return of stolen assets.

Ahead of the gathering, Mr Moyo said: ‘The FACTI report’s assertion that “self-regulation does not work” is incorrect. While the ambitious and transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to be applauded, government regulation of the legal profession is not a proposal with which the IBA, as the global voice of the legal profession, can concur. Naturally, the IBA is committed to the fight against financial crime but providing governments with oversight of the legal profession as a remedy is of great concern.’

Mr Moyo added: ‘In functioning democracies, an independent legal profession is a much-valued cornerstone of the rule of law. Unfortunately, where governments wish to silence dissent, we have witnessed many instances of the abuse of regulatory power, with lawyers being jailed for carrying out their professional duties, simply because they represent a client who is critical of the government or head of a nation. The news reports are numerous and impossible to ignore. An independent legal profession, free from governmental interference, is essential.’

Mr Moyo was invited to the launch of the FACTI report to discuss the findings particularly in relation to the role of lawyers and legal regulators in combatting white-collar crime.

In support of the IBA President’s comments, IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis said: ‘The legal profession is predicated on upholding the rule of law. It is regrettable that today’s FACTI report focuses on the wrongdoings of a small criminal element, which has brought the profession into disrepute. Such complicity in crime has been condemned by the IBA, and the broader legal community. It is recognised that crime by lawyers is very much the exception, not the norm, and can arise in any profession where there is a fiduciary duty or relationship of trust, including doctors, accountants, teachers, and politicians. It is not unique to law.’

Dr Ellis added: ‘In the context of the IBA’s steadfast commitment to perpetuating the highest ethical standards for the legal profession, as well as our collaborations with global bodies that share our values and aims, the reference to the legal profession in the FACTI report is disappointing. We are now in our second decade of collaborative projects aimed at minimising and eradicating white-collar crime, including with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Basel Institute of Governance, the World Bank and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC). We look forward to further cooperation with FACTI on the matters addressed in its report.’

IBA collaborative projects were established before and after the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca scandal, which brought white-collar crime to the attention of the public in an unprecedented way in 2016. These projects include:

  • Creating an anti-corruption strategy for the legal profession, in collaboration with the OECD and UNODC
  • Working with the Basel Institute of Governance and the World Bank on judicial integrity and corruption; a resulting report included research relating to 120 countries
  • Publishing an in-depth joint report in 2019 with the OECD on the role of lawyers in international commercial structures, which is referenced on page 27 of the FACTI report

During his address at the launch of the FACTI report, Mr Moyo emphasised the positive role of lawyers in society and how they contribute to its functionality through enforcing and operating within the legal structures and protections required for a society to operate fairly and successfully. He also referenced the IBA’s long and proud tradition of cooperation and engagement with the UN and other world organisations, stretching back more than 70 years.

The FACTI Panel Final Report can be accessed online at www.factipanel.org/reports.

Queries regarding the IBA response should be submitted to the email address LPRUTeam@int-bar.org.


Notes to the Editor

  1. 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.

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