Public confuse solicitor with client - Assange lawyer
THE PUBLIC often fail to make a distinction between a lawyer and his client, the solicitor representing Julian Assange told the International Bar Association (IBA) conference yesterday. He was speaking at a session on the public perception of lawyers.
This happens at a high level, Mark Stephens of the London firm Finers Stephens Innocent said.
He described how his assistant received a letter from the US state department lawyer, which was released to the press, accusing her of being a member of Wikileaks. This was a matter of serious concern and was taken up on her behalf by the IBA and the Canadian Bar Association. The accusation was not repeated, although it was not retracted, he said.
He said he had been asked to accept a brief from former Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy and had discussed it with the other partners in the firm.
“There is no doubt he needed to be represented and justice needed to be done. He should get the justice he denied to so many.”
However the vote against representing Gadafy was 49 to one.
The other partners decided it was a question of the perception of the firm and that it would give rise to “economic conflict”, he said.
“I think that’s a matter of serious concern. The ‘taxi rank’ principle in the UK, where a barrister is obliged to take any client who can pay in a matter in an area in which he practises, does not exist for solicitors. In the long run, it will affect the negative public perception of lawyers.”
Earlier the conference was told that on the rare occasions when torture produced truthful information that could prevent a crime, it came at a very high price.
The UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said years of torture in Latin American meant citizens now did not trust the security forces, affecting their ability to fight crime.
Mr Mendez was himself a victim of torture during the Argentinian “dirty war”, held because he had represented political prisoners. He was adopted as one of Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience at that time.
Since then he has worked with Human Rights Watch, been an adviser on crime prevention to the International Criminal Court and is visiting professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law, as well as working with the UN.
He said there was no evidence that torture would get closer to the truth than conventional interrogation, quoting FBI interrogators who said they could obtain information without violating the US constitution prohibiting torture.
He opposes the use of torture in all circumstances and rejects the argument that it can sometimes save lives.
“Sometimes the information extracted under torture is true, many times it’s not. Often victims will give the information they think the torturer wants, which can send the torturer on a wild goose chase.
“Even if you get good information you pay a very high price for it. In many countries in Latin America, after years of torture, you can’t depend on the security forces to fight crime. They are not dependable and not trusted by the citizens, so they can’t work on detecting and preventing crime because of the years in which they ran amok and tortured people.”
Mr Mendez has argued for a victim-centred approach to fighting torture. “Sometimes the state is willing to stop the torture but not willing to engage with the victims. We must always insist on the right of victims to participate in inquiries and the design of reparations programmes.”