ADMISSION TO THE BAR
As it is known, from 2018, the institution of representation in our country was restricted and a partial monopoly of advocacy on court cases was ensured. Taking into account the experience of developed countries in this area, we can consider the change in the legislation on the restriction of representation in our country as a belated step. Prior to the change, even non-professional peoples, including lawyers, builders, blacksmiths, etc. represented people in the courts. This was unacceptable. At least they had no professional responsibility to the people they represented. Illiterate, incompetent, unrealistic, populist people said that after the restriction of representation, there will be queues in the courts, and citizens will not be able to find an advocate to represent them in court. They argued that the number of advocates was not enough. The question is why the alleged queues did not appear? In time, everything fell into place. People are satisfied, complaints have decreased, and there are almost no negative cases. In some cases, we receive complaints on non-advocates, and we explain to citizens that they are not advocates, but use this name illegally. The Azerbaijani Bar Association continues its activities in this direction as well. Illegal use of the name of advocacy is also being combated.
Thus, as of 2018, the Azerbaijani Bar Association has started large-scale works to increase the number of advocates in our country.
In 2018, two written tests were held for admission to the bar, and the number of advocates increased from 931 to 1,503.
In 2019, 3 written test exams were conducted electronically and the number of advocates increased from 1503 to 1708.
In 2020, there was one entrance exam for advocacy, as well as the first online oral interviews with candidates by the Advocacy Qualifications Commission, and the number of advocates increased from 1,708 to 1,844. This should be understood as a 100% increase in the number of advocates compared to 2017.
Taking into account that the admission to the bar by test method began in 2004, it should be noted that in the period from 2004 to 2018 (for 14 years) the number of advocates increased from 600 to 931, but in the period from 2018 to 2020 (for 3 years) the number of advocates increased from 913 to 1,844. Thus, with the increase in the number of young advocates, advocacy has become much younger.
Similarly, the number of female advocates and the number of advocates in the regions have increased in many times. In addition, 3 years ago the number of law offices was 39, now this number has increased to 100, and many of them have been renewed and fully restored.
However, it should not be forgotten that the number of law graduates in Azerbaijan is about 10 times less than in other countries. This has a direct impact on the number of advocates.
For the last 3 years, the reception of documents for advocacy is carried out on a regular basis, the written test is carried out by computer at the State Examination Center. The transparent admission process is followed by representatives of international organizations such as the UN, GIZ, the Council of Europe and the US Embassy.
In this period, the reception of documents has been carried out in electronic form and in accordance with the examination program mentioned on the Bar's website, the candidates who come to the exam on the same day for the oral examination stage are asked the same questions for the sake of objectivity. However, in previous years, there was a different oral exam experience.
As for the composition of the Qualification Commission of Advocates, 5 out of 11 members are advocates, 3 are scientists and 3 are judges. Some international organizations consider the fact that the number of advocates in the Commission is less than the number of scientists to be detrimental to the independence of advocacy. However, this step is commendable for the implementation of a quality examination process, and most importantly, to date, no comments or complaints have been received from any candidate in this regard.
In addition, one of the integral components of admission to the bar is compulsory training at the Academy of Justice. Training at the Academy should not be seen as a violation of the independence of advocacy. The academy organizes the educational process only from a logistical point of view, and the trainings are conducted mainly by professional advocates. As a result of the compulsory training, no complaints were received from the knowledge assessment exam. A representative of the Azerbaijani Bar Association (advocate) also participates in the examination commission.
Moreover, more than 705 advocates have been trained over 3 years in cooperation with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN specialized agencies and other international organizations. In addition, the Legal Aid and Training Center of the Bar Association, which has been operating since the beginning of 2020, conducts trainings both traditionally and online.
In general, 6 exams were held during the last 3 years and 2975 candidates applied to take part in these exams. Furthermore, 222 candidates are currently waiting for the test.
Although there is 100% increase in the number of advocates in the last 3 years and a 60% admission rate, only 11 candidates who were dissatisfied with the exam results applied to the court.
In addition, according to the agreement reached with the Law Society of the United Kingdoms, members of the Azerbaijani Bar Association can now be admitted to advocacy and practice law in England and Wales.
In particular, we would like to note that by the Order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated December 25, 2019, it was decided to celebrate December 28 every year in the Republic of Azerbaijan as a "Advocates Day" as a professional holiday.
LEGAL AIDS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE STATE
Unlike previous years, in 2020 a number of new activities were added to the list of responsibilities of the Bar Association. As it is known, the Decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated 03.04.2019 “On deepening reforms in the judicial system” determined to allocate funds for legal aid in the state budget from 2020 directly to the Bar Association, not to the relevant Executive Power.
In this regard, 21,913 decisions were implemented in 2020 and a total of 2,664,167 manats was used for these decisions, which is 48% of the funds allocated for this purpose from the state budget. The percentage of executed decisions was 100 percent (88 invoices were executed by the Bar Association during the current year, which shows that the execution rate is about 3.6 times higher than in previous years, when the state budget was financed from local expenditures).
At the same time, it should be noted that according to the Order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan "On additional measures for the development of advocacy" dated 22.02.2018, the fee for legal assistance provided at the expense of the state increased 3 times and amounted to 6 manats.
It should be noted that over the past 3 years, the Board has provided free legal aid to more than 23,000 low-income people in both the capital and the regions.
ADVOCACY IN THE PANDEMIC PERIOD
As for the work done by the Board in the fight against coronavirus in the country, it should be noted that in support of the call of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, 50,000 manats were transferred to the established Coronavirus Support Fund by the decision of the Board. As these amount were transferred from the Advocacy Development Fund (collection from the order stamp (expenses) paid by advocates) so that the participation of all advocates in this action was ensured.
In this context, advocates were released from membership during the quarantine period (July, December and January 2021 of the current year). In addition, In addition, advocates aged 60 and over were fully exempted from membership from March 24 to June 1, 2020.
Since the ABA is an association responsible for the organization of professional protection of human rights and freedoms in our country, an appeal has been addressed to the Cabinet of Ministers and according to the decision of the CoM, the free movement of advocates in the country has been allowed on the basis of membership cards.
In addition, the Legal Aid and Training Center of the Bar Association provided free online legal aids to citizens in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection.
Furthermore, 6 advocates suffering from coronavirus and other diseases received financial supports from the Advocacy Development Fund.
Despite the weak international cooperation from previous years, the situation began to change in 2018. Building on openness and transparency, the Bar Association began to cooperate with a number of international organizations.
During this period, we continued to strengthened our relationship with the UN specialized agencies, International Organization for Migration, the Commissioners for Human Rights and Children's Rights, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Council of Europe, the European Union, the World Bank and apart from that, participated in local events held on various dates with the participation of members of the German-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce.
In 2018-2019, the Board and members of the Bar Association participated in legal conferences held in China, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Austria, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russian, Belarus, and a number of other countries.
In 2020, our members participated in online conferences organized by the CCBE, the German Federal Bar Association, the Bar Association of Kazakhstan, the International Bar Association (UIA), the Law Association of Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA).
At the same time, during 2020, the Azerbaijani Bar Association was elected as member of UIA and LAWASIA.
In addition, effective cooperation has been established with international organizations specializing in the field of advocacy (CCBE, ICJ) and with the recommendations of these organizations, we made additions and amendments to the Charter on the Advocates Rules Of Conduct.
More than 200 foreigners delegates, including heads and members of bar associations from more than 20 countries, representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations, took part in a series of international events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Azerbaijani advocacy in Baku.
SUPPORT FOR YOUNG GENERATION OF LAWYERS - Increasing interest in the legal profession among young people
According to the cooperation agreement signed between the Bar Association and ELSA (European Law Students Association), joint projects, conferences, round tables, seminars, discussions, court competitions, summer and winter law schools are held with the support of the Bar Association, as well as ELSA members can apply and practice at our law offices at any time.
For 2 years in a row, financial and media supports were provided for the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition both in Azerbaijan and for the winners to participate in the rounds in the United States.
In addition, the travel expenses of the team representing Azerbaijan at the 26th International Commercial Arbitration Competition (26th Willem C. Vis Moot) in Vienna were covered.
Moreover, many other supports have always been provided in various fields for the internal events of the Universities and individual students. Also, the implementation of the "Volunteers of the Bar Association" and many other projects will begin this year.
SUPPORT FOR LEGAL REFORM
As it is known, in connection with the implementation of the Decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated 03.04.2019 “On deepening reforms in the judicial system”, the Bar Association formed 2 working groups on civil and criminal law. Each group prepared a comprehensive package of proposals and sent it to the relevant governmental bodies.
In particular, many changes have been made to the Law on Advocates and Legal Practice. Also, according to the amendments to the Law "On forensic activities", advocates of natural persons or legal entities have the right to formally apply to forensic agencies or private forensic experts to order a forensic examination.
In addition, since the beginning of 2019, the Bar Association has launched the project "Prodemos - For the People." The main purpose of this project is to explain to our citizens publicly-important amendments in the legislation in plain language and to support those in need of legal aids, as well as to invite our advocates for live meeting every week and to answer questions of the citizens online.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR ADVOCATES
During the past period, 6 advocates suffering from coronavirus and other diseases received financial supports from the Advocacy Development Fund.
In total, 136 advocates were exempted from membership fees due to the maternity leaves and educational reasons.
In addition, as part of the Second Karabakh War, 8 members of the Azerbaijani Bar Association participated in the War and the Board provided monthly financial supports to their family members during their entire service in the military.
APPLICATION OF INNOVATIONS IN ADVOCACY - ELECTRONIC SERVICES
To ensure citizens' access to legal assistance, an online register of all law offices and advocates has been created on the website of the Bar Association. In addition, an electronic office (personal account) has been set up for each advocate, and the official documents of the Board and documents related to the advocates are placed in this section.
In addition, advocates can integrate into the e-court information system, submit their claims to the courts electronically, be informed about cases via SMS and e-mail, and obtain court documents electronically through a "personal account" created for each advocate.
Due to the pandemic in 2020, taking into account the quarantine regime, a mobile application "LegalAid" was developed and made available to citizens.
Also, work is underway with the e-Gov Development Center to obtain advocate inquiries in electronic form. In addition, in the near future, the "Electronic Advocate Order" and "Continuing Education" on electronic platforms will be made available to advocates.
SOCIAL ACTIVITIES AND COMPETITIONS
Frequent visits to nursing homes for elderly and children and actions for environmental protection are organized on a regular basis, as well as numerous competitions and contests in sports and academic activities are being held including international and local football and chess tournaments, art, literature competitions and so forth.
When advocates encounter bureaucratic obstacles in government agencies, they contact us and as opposed to the previous years, the Azerbaijan Bar Association responds promptly and provides support in resolving these issues.
In addition, unlike in previous years, there is a humanist approach to disciplinary proceedings. Although the number of advocates has increased, the number of disciplinary cases has decreased. In fact, in many cases, the Board did not institute disciplinary proceedings against advocates on the basis of appeals from government bodies and did not addressed send these appeals to the Advocates’ Disciplinary Commission.
As a result, 40% of appeals from law enforcement agencies against the advocates were not instituted by the Board at all. Although disciplinary proceedings have been instituted in other cases, no disciplinary sanctions have been taken regarding 81% of them.
Also, the opinions and suggestions of advocates on improving the activities of the Bar Association are taken into account and depending on their specialization, lawyers are involved in educational activities, innovative projects, as well as in improving the legislation.
Today, advocates are active in the work of opposition political parties, and it must be said with confidence that there is no pressure from the Board on their political activities and views. At the same time, there were no complaints from the vast majority of them.
One of the issues raised by international organizations is that advocates who were allegedly disbarred had problems representing people in the ECHR. In this regard, we note that in connection with the proceedings in the ECHR, we do not restrict their rights, we do not have the authority to do so, and even if they are not advocates, they can represent their clients in the ECHR.
Reports from some international organizations state that the Board is pursuing advocates such as Osman Kazimov or Javad Javadov. We are confident that the Board does not have any problems with these advocates - no disciplinary proceedings have been instituted against them.
In addition, according to our law, advocates can work both individually and in the law offices. Advocates are not restricted from acting individually. However, they must comply with the rules and requirements adopted by the Board, and the conditions of the law offices must be appropriate, and confidentiality must be maintained.