The annual International Bar Association’s (IBA) Conference, held this year in Paris from 29 October to 3 November, is the leading conference for legal professionals. It is a great opportunity for the Bar Council to promote the Bar to a global audience of up to 6,000 practitioners and engage in lively discussions about the development of the legal profession and areas of law.
The Bar Council’s delegation was made up of current Chair Nick Vineall KC, Young Barristers’ Committee Chair Michael Harwood, the Bar Council’s Director of Policy, the International Policy and Programmes Officer as well as the International Project Officer. This blog explores key highlights and takeaways from the week.
Giving the floor to contemporary legal debates and issues
The IBA is a forum and a platform to discuss issues affecting the law internationally, as well as how law and lawyers are positioned within society and their role. In our continued commitment to developing the core values of the profession and upholding the principles of the rule of law, this conference is an essential platform for us to represent both public and professional interest at discussions over contemporary legal matters.
Panels in Paris were alive to topical legal issues, including questions over whether lawyers can or should be ‘ethical gatekeepers’. The general social implications of acting for particular clients is increasingly under scrutiny in the media and wider public discourse, and the Bar Leaders’ Forum was no exception. Speaking during the forum, our Chair Nick Vineall KC set out his concerns towards imposing these kinds of moral obligations on the legal profession, which contradict the historic ‘cab rank rule’ that has traditionally shaped and underpinned the work of the Bar. The significance of this debate cannot be understated, as the IBA has even proposed its own gatekeeper's policy, which will be reviewed by their relevant committee – the outcomes of which the Bar Council will be examining closely.
Strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs) were on the radar. During a session on SLAPPs, our Chair suggested a new deterrent: that those in pursuance of restraining criticism and discussion about themselves or their organisations should face liability of damages – not to defendants, but to the public interest. The latter is damaged as information that should be accessible is otherwise restrained, and the claimant's reputation unjustifiably protected.
Our Director of Policy also attended the Bar Executives meeting hosted by the Paris Bar. All attending Bars gave updates on their work to support refugee lawyers from other jurisdictions, which is paramount in a context of rising global conflict. The main policy issues for involved Bars were also raised – many of which mirrored those of the Bar Council – including justice system funding, relations with governments, SLAPPs, regulation, AML, public legal education, technology, and Artificial Intelligence.
Forging new partnerships…
The Bar Council also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the International Law Section (ILS) of the Florida Bar Association. We have collaborated with the ILS for some time, organising a ‘battle royale’ style event between civil and common law at last year’s IBA in Miami. This MoU was therefore a natural progression of our longstanding relationship, cementing our mutual partnership and unifying our Bars’ international perspectives.
The signing of the MoU was followed by a discussion on our immediate priorities for the partnership. We will look to collaborate closely with ILS on their upcoming events and will open our events to their practitioners. Training for young lawyers was also a focus with there being significant interest in an exchange scheme for this group. Finally, the growing challenges to the rule of law were touched upon, with both Bar Associations emphasising their dedication to protecting and upholding this both domestically and internationally.
...And fostering existing ones
While forging new relationships with Florida via the MoU, the IBA importantly permitted us to host and meet with our other long-standing connections from other Bars and legal professions.
As is the case every year at the IBA, we hosted our four Bars joint reception with the Northern Irish Bar, the Irish Bar, and the Faculty of Advocates on the fringes of the IBA. This event joins UK and Irish advocates with lawyers from around the world and provides an excellent opportunity for barristers to establish business connections with international colleagues. Within the bounds of the conference, we also met bilaterally with several Bar leaders and representatives.
The IBA dovetails with our very recent visit to Nairobi in October 2023, where our delegation followed up on several of our MoU priorities with the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), so it was a priority of our delegation to meet the LSK President, Eric Theuri, and discuss his position on how our visit went. While it is early days, this meeting was also a great opportunity to discuss our plans for next year’s visit to Kenya.
We also met with several other Bar leaders and representatives from the international legal profession, including Yakubu Maikyau, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and Luke Murphy, President of the Law Council of Australia Bar Council. We also hosted a breakfast with Mexican Bar leaders, reconnecting with our colleagues after a successful business development visit to Mexico City in September 2023.