Rule of Law Initiative Convenes Bar Leadership Roundtable in Bangkok

Roundtable participants in Bangkok, February 19, 2007.

In February, bar leaders from 15 countries convened in Bangkok to discuss their activities and exchange thoughts on how to work more closely together to strengthen lawyers and bar associations across the Asia region. The Rule of Law Initiative Asia Division, in partnership with the Thai Lawyers Council, convened the program as an adjunct to their joint conference on combating corruption in the justice system, (see related story).

At the gathering, lawyers from Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea, Lao, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United States were represented. The ABA was represented by its president, Karen Mathis, as well as by Asia Division Council Chair Laura Stein and Council Member Clifford Wallace, along with staff of the Rule of Law Initiative Asia Division from the U.S. and Thailand. Additionally, the President of the International Bar Association, Fernando Pombo, joined the discussions, as did Mah Weng Kwai, President of LAWASIA.

Despite the diversity of the group, several common themes emerged. Judicial independence and transparency was noted as a major concern. The role of independent judicial commissions (responsible for selecting, training, and disciplining judges) in ensuring judicial independence was also discussed. Court administration also was raised as critical to ensuring the fair and prompt delivery of justice, as was its corollary - poor governance - both in the legal profession and in the judiciary.

Bar leaders noted the need for fair and transparent bar entrance requirements, improved training and continuing legal education, and lighter government regulation. Finally, bar representatives also agreed on the urgent need to educate the public on the role and functioning of the justice systems in their respective countries. There was widespread agreement that if the rule of law is to take root, the public must understand their rights, and their responsibilities, as well as the critical role that lawyers play in the functioning of the justice system.