Two influential Belgian lawyers' associations have condemned the EU's most recent package of sanctions on Russia, claiming that it "betrays our fundamental values" by violating the basic legal principle that all individuals are entitled to legal representation.
According to the EU bill passed on October 6th — the eighth sanctions package since Russia's February invasion of Ukraine — it is "prohibited to provide, directly or indirectly ... legal advisory services ... to (a) the Government of Russia; or (b) or legal persons, entities or bodies established in Russia."
In a recent joint statement, the French and Flemish Bar Associations of Brussels argued that this legislation infringes upon the "professional independence" of lawyers, which "precludes any external authority whatsoever, including States or any other international body, from dictating to lawyers the conditions under which they could accept or should refuse to defend a case."
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Emmanuel Plasschaert, President of the French Bar Association of Brussels, emphasised that Brussels lawyers' strong opposition to the EU bill should not be construed as suggesting that they do not support Ukraine.
"It is obvious that we strongly support Ukraine and its inhabitants, who are suffering unacceptable aggression from Russia," Plasschaert said in an interview with La Dernière Heure. "But this war and its atrocities must not make us forget that law and justice are not services like any other. They are, rather, the guarantors of a healthy democracy."
In their joint statement, the French and Bar Associations called on the EU to "amend" its own legislation, so as to make "compliant with [European] fundamental rights, as well as the principles and values that govern the practice of the legal profession."