IBA President's address at the Annual Conference 2016

In his address to this year’s Annual Conference, IBA President David W Rivkin reflected on a remarkable year of projects and the ethical considerations facing lawyers.

It is an exciting time to be in Washington: the final months of the Obama Administration and a presidential election that is making us much more nervous than we would like. It is very appropriate for the IBA to be holding its Annual Conference here: Washington is not only the centre of the United States government, but of many multilateral agencies. It also bears the influence of many foreign architects.

The work of the IBA has never been more important and I thank all of you for being involved in it. Since its founding in 1947, the IBA has been dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the rule of law throughout the world. Today, as we face new challenges to the rule of law, it is vital to remember that it is neither a new concept nor one rooted only in the tradition of some countries. The rule of law is an ancient and universal concept.

Since we last met at last year’s Annual Conference in Vienna, the IBA has had an extraordinary year in serving this mission. In January, I had the honour of joining Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar to address the inaugural conference of the country’s Independent Lawyers Association. Thanks to the diligent work of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute in forming this association, thousands of lawyers came together in the recognition that independent lawyers serving their clients’ interests, free of government interference, are an essential step in the creation of a new democracy.

Similarly, the IBA has been conducting training programmes for lawyers in Cuba on the essential aspects of international business law: corporate organisation, intellectual property, international sales and dispute resolution. It is recognised that Cuba cannot open its doors to new trade and investment unless lawyers have the ability to serve their clients in these areas.

Earlier this year, the IBA Council adopted the IBA Practical Guide for Business Lawyers on Business and Human Rights. No matter what our practice area, we must advise our clients in a manner that assists them in avoiding human rights impacts and promotes their and our integrity.

The IBA’s Presidential initiatives have taken many important, practical steps towards solving some of our most difficult problems. Thanks to many of you completing our survey on judicial corruption, our Judicial Integrity Initiative published an enormously useful report on the types of corruption that arise in judicial systems. Building from that base, the Judicial Integrity Initiative is now undertaking many projects designed to have a practical impact in reducing corruption in judiciaries: last month, I attended a ceremony in Mexico City at which the Chief Justice and the presidents of the three Mexican bars signed the IBA Judicial Anti-Corruption Compact.

The Compact is designed to be signed by individual judges, lawyers, prosecutors and court administrators; they commit to each other and to the public that they will not engage in corrupt activities and that they will report any such activities they witness. By publishing the Compact and its signatories on the websites of our member bar associations and the judiciaries, we hope to change the expectation in many countries that corruption is the only way to succeed in a judicial proceeding. We look forward to many other countries following Mexico’s excellent example.

We are also working on developing a set of standards and an organisation through which judiciaries may be certified as having procedures in place that will prevent corrupt activities. We are researching best practices in investigating allegations of judicial corruption and also the manner in which all of our member bar associations and law societies investigate and sanction potential corrupt conduct by their members. And we are surveying national laws to determine if the laws, in fact, make illegal the types of corruption found in our survey. If we find gaps and deficiencies, the IBA will propose a model statute to correct them.

The Presidential Task Force Against Human Trafficking, meanwhile, has issued a seminal report on the impact of corruption on human trafficking. The report makes vividly clear that human trafficking could not occur without corruption and it proposes concrete steps that governments, private companies and non-governmental organisations should take to prevent human trafficking.

The law does not give us an excuse to turn a blind eye to what we know is right or wrong

I had the honour of presenting these findings, along with the IBA’s efforts on judicial corruption, to a conference of judges and prosecutors organised by the Vatican, at which Pope Francis gave a passionate speech about how much the law is needed to preserve morality. The Pope proclaimed, ‘justice is the first attribute of society’.

The Presidential Task Force on the Independence of the Legal Profession has also issued an important report on the essential criteria of an independent bar and why an independent bar is so essential to democracy.

All of these reports are available on the IBA website and I encourage you to read them, whatever your area of practice

The IBA’s work on climate change justice and human rights has continued aggressively as many IBA committees have worked to implement the recommendations of our flagship 2014 report. Our working groups on remedies and adaptation have drafted important proposals.

From the Vatican, to the [UK] governmental conference on corruption, to a UN conference on climate change headed by Ban Ki-Moon and in many other fora, the IBA’s voice has been sought and listened to as the authoritative voice of the legal profession.

And, of course, the 77 committees of the IBA have remained enormously active. Their accomplishments are far too many to cover now, so let me highlight one as an example. Our Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee conducted an extensive research project on the challenges children face in gaining access to justice and the strategies and solutions employed by countries around the world to address them. The project has demonstrated the fundamental importance of access to justice as an empowerment tool for children to help reduce poverty and realise the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda.

Another IBA project has also been very meaningful and thoroughly enriching. At the beginning of my term, we searched for young Israeli and Palestinian lawyers who would one day be leaders in their communities, in the hope that bringing them together to discuss issues of common interest and how international law could impact the conflict in their region, could lead to peace.

We found 12 extraordinary lawyers: Israeli Jews, Arab Israelis and Palestinians. We brought them together, and the results have far exceeded our expectations. They have bonded; they have cried together; they have respectfully disagreed; and they have found common approaches to international law to propose solutions to intractable problems. Witnessing their discussions has been among the most memorable moments of my IBA Presidency.

This has been a challenging year for lawyers around the world. We have seen lawyers and judges imprisoned, disbarred and removed from office in China, Turkey, Venezuela, Egypt and elsewhere. In Pakistan, we have witnessed the premeditated slaughter of lawyers who had come to a hospital in respect of a bar leader who had been previously assaulted. Those who want to rule autocratically know that they have to intimidate and remove lawyers who will use the rule of law to oppose them.

As lawyers who have been fortunate enough to be successful in our practices, we have an obligation to defend them, to speak out, to make clear that this cannot stand. All of us have the power to do so, as individuals, collectively or through our bars and we must do so.

One way to benefit lawyers under attack is for all of us to do a better job explaining to the general public the important role that we play in defending everyone’s liberties, the time and expense we commit to defending those who cannot afford to pay us and in making the law more fair and just for all. And to do this, we also have to preserve the reputations of all lawyers, because publicity about one lawyer who has crossed the line harms all of us.

By all means defend your clients’ interests, but do so in a way that respects the ethics and morality that we expect of one another. The law does not give us an excuse to turn a blind eye to what we know is right or wrong.

In this respect, we will soon announce an important project to explore the proper ethical rules for lawyers in light of the disclosures of the Panama Papers and also how governments should properly fight corruption without infringing on the attorney-client privilege and professional secrecy that are vital to our serving our clients.

I have had the privilege and honour for the last two years to represent the IBA and all of you, in fighting for these principles. This is a complex and difficult time to be a lawyer, but it is also a great time.