Outer Temple Chambers silk Paul Garlick QC has been acting as an international monitor for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in its fight for justice reform in Azerbaijan.

The OSCE contacted Garlick last year to ask him to monitor the last in a series of criminal trials in Azerbaijan. The defendants in the trials were charged in connection with violent demonstrations at the time of the Azerbaijan presidential election in October 2003.

In total, 125 people were brought to trial. Garlick was asked to observe the fifteenth trial, involving seven high-profile defendants, including Panah Huseynov, the former prime minister of Azerbaijan.

When the OSCE’s request came, one of Garlick’s scheduled court cases in the UK had collapsed, leaving him with a free diary, which enabled him to assist. Accordingly he flew out to Azerbaijan in time for the trial last May, which was supposed to last for up to two months.

“The OSCE and the Council of Europe were very concerned that they were politically-motivated trials,” Garlick explains. “The OSCE wanted me to come in as an international expert. They wanted someone to look at it very critically.”

In the previous 14 trials, locally trained monitors – including newly qualified lawyers and others with similar experience – had watched the court proceedings. The prominence of the fifteenth trial and its defendants, however, meant that an international monitor was required.

The trial suffered from hitches and delays, with many adjournments, and Garlick ended up spending four months in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku. He worked closely with local OSCE officials, the Council for Europe and the British embassy during his time there.

By the time of the trial’s conclusion, all seven of the defendants were convicted and sentenced to between two and a half and five years in prison.

The OSCE then prepared a report on all 15 trials and the way in which the defendants had been treated. It says that they were not given a fair trial and that many basic rights – including the right to legal counsel – were not complied with. The Azerbaijan government has accepted the criticisms in principle.

Garlick is now working with the OSCE to train Azerbaijani lawyers, with the first session taking place in Warsaw in April. He says that the whole experience has helped him to think about his profession in a different way.

“It taught me an immense amount about dealing with situations as a diplomat as well as a lawyer,” Garlick says. “One of the most moving experiences was being outside in the street waiting for the court to start, and local Azerbaijanis would thank us for taking an active role in their country.”

He concludes: “It was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.”