Delegation of Kosovan lawyers visits Dublin

A DELEGATION of four lawyers from the Kosovo Chamber of Advocates (KCA) has visited Dublin as part of a new joint initiative …

A DELEGATION of four lawyers from the Kosovo Chamber of Advocates (KCA) has visited Dublin as part of a new joint initiative by the Bar Council and the Law Society to promote the rule of law in countries in the developing world.

The Rule of Law Initiative is based on the idea that a strong, independent and functional legal system is central to development.

Investors will not invest in a country unless they have confidence that disputes can be resolved in an effective and impartial manner, and the development of civic society depends on an independent legal system to protect citizens' rights.

Leesha O'Driscoll, from the Bar Council, said the initiative had already involved groups of lawyers going to South Africa and Bosnia to provide training, especially in commercial law.

In Bosnia Herzegovina they have drawn up a manual of procedure for the courts.

Their work is supported by Irish Aid, she said. They are now hoping that Irish Aid will extend the project they have started in Bosnia.

This brought senior members of the KCA, its president, Musa Dragusha; Ibrahim Dobruna, president of its Pristina branch; Florin Vertopi, chairman of its ethics committee; and Fatmir Kutlovci, a Kosovan lawyer working for the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative, to Dublin this week.

The legal profession in Kosovo bears the scars of the recent history of the former Yugoslavia, culminating in the 1999 war. In 1989, Kosovo's previous autonomy was severely restricted as Serbia assumed control of many of its institutions, including the justice system.

According to a report by the American Bar Association, one of the results was the discriminatory dismissal of Kosovan ethnic Albanian judges and prosecutors.

Aspiring lawyers of Albanian origin were banned from the "official" law school in Pristina, and qualifying applicants were not permitted to take the jurisprudence (bar) examination controlling entry into the legal profession.

Members of the Albanian community established an illegal shadow government and a parallel educational system funded by a 3 per cent "tax" on personal income of Kosovan Albanians within and outside Kosovo.

This system included a law faculty that operated out of a private house in Pristina, providing legal education to ethnic Albanian students on a clandestine basis.

By the time the war ended in 1999, many Kosovan Albanian lawyers had fled the province, while those who remained often lacked recent experience or access to current developments in laws and practices, and had little background in modern business law and international human rights conventions.

The KCA had to be reactivated with the help of international organizations, the ethnic Albanian law faculty had to be reincorporated into the University of Pristina and its facilities, and the ethnic Serb law faculty in Pristina had to be relocated to Mitrovica.

Angela Ruttledge of the Law Society said the KCA was particularly interested in seeing the professional education programmes offered by the Law Society and the King's Inns, which they became aware of during an earlier visit to Dublin in May 2007.

"At that time the KCA recognised that this professional legal education component was missing from the qualification route in Kosovo, where the emphasis is on academic qualifications as opposed to practice skills," she said.

During their week in Dublin, the delegation visited the Law Society's education centre in Blackhall Place, the Courts Service, and the Four Courts as well as attending tutorials at the Kings Inns.

They took part in teacher training sessions and spoke with both trainee and senior Irish barristers and solicitors, including Bar Council chairman Michael Collins SC, David Nolan SC, and TP Kennedy, director of education at the Law Society.

The delegation wanted to see what a large multi-lawyer practice looks like (99 per cent of the 500 lawyers practising in Kosovo are sole practitioners).

Irish firm Mason Hayes and Curran hosted a discussion on the experience of growing from a small practice to a large firm.

The delegation also met Minister of State for International Development Peter Power, who is also a solicitor.