(bne IntelliNews) – Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on November 7 approved amendments to the civil code voted in by parliament a week earlier that will effectively decimate the legal profession, APA news agency reported on November 7.
Only a tenth of lawyers active in Azerbaijan are members of the bar, which is reportedly heavily politicised. The amendments give the bar ultimate control of the legal profession, meaning that the majority of lawyers will no longer be able to practice. After the parliament passed the amendments, some lawyers were reportedly called into their local police station, where they were notified that they would be arrested if they continued to serve clients, according to Eurasianet.
Before the current amendments, Azerbaijan operated a two-tiered legal system whereby some lawyers became bar members after passing a written and highly politicised oral exam; the rest were registered lawyers that were allowed to represent clients in non-criminal courts.
Some 8,000 lawyers will be affected by these amendments. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, a country of almost 10mn, will only have 934 registered lawyers that can represent the population.
There are some 370,000 civil and administrative cases pending in the Azerbaijani courts. MP Chingiz Ganizade told Eurasianet that the amendments will likely result in an increase in legal fees that will make it prohibitive for most people to contract lawyers.
According to Ganizade, the changes were made in order to hamper the activities of those lawyers that have criticised the government or appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against alleged human rights violations perpetrated by Azerbaijani authorities.
The amendments to the civil code will come into force in January 2018.