China’s legal profession is less independent than it was before 2003 and lawyers involved in controversial cases live “under the Sword of Damocles”, according to panellists at the International Bar Association’s (IBA) discussion on the independence of lawyers in the country.
Mo Shaoping, the human rights lawyer who represents jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, was among the panellists who took part in the discussion on 10 November.
Mo and Beijing University law professor He Weifang had to take part by videoconference after being stopped by the Chinese authorities from leaving the country.
According to Mo and fellow panellists Fu Hualing and Jerome Cohen – law professors at the University of Hong Kong and New York University respectively – China’s lawyers are less independent than before the 2003 election. Political influence in bar associations has grown, with the secretary general position often held by a Ministry of Justice member, and judges at odds with lawyers. Also, despite China having more than 170,000 lawyers, 210 counties have none whatsoever.
“Lawyers in controversial cases often fail to get their licence renewed and firms have been shut down,” said Cohen.
He added: “Lawyers live under the Sword of Damocles. They can’t protect themselves, let alone the rights of others.”