Many sessions involved an exchange between the ‘international experts’ and lawyers from the region that tested concepts for both, for example, assumptions made about the independence of prosecutorial decisions, the personal safety of lawyers, and the duty of a court to lawyers, were all issues emerging from discussion, sometimes to the surprise of visiting international lawyers.
Two significant announcements were made during the conference week, both of which are evidence that this conference generates change. The first was the announcement by the Independent Lawyers Association of Myanmar (ILAM) of a date for the first election for officers to a central committee to shape the policies and directions of ILAM as a new independent bar association.
This is an historic step, in a process started in March 2014, where a national steering committee of lawyers, from every state and region in Myanmar, has been working with the International Bar Association’s (IBA) Human Rights Institute to design and establish an independent bar according to the best practice for bar associations. ILAM also decided that it will have a pro bono committee once it is up and running even though much of the work now undertaken by its members is done without charge to the client.
The second announcement during the conference week was the ‘yellow ribbon’ campaign launched by the Myanmar judiciary against the militarization of the legal system. This movement protests against the practice of appointment of former military officers to judicial positions they are often largely unqualified for (see also ‘Yellow ribbons seek an end to militarized judiciary’, Myanmar Times, Thursday 10 September, p.4).
230 participants from more than 19 countries came together to share their knowledge, experiences and passion for pro bono, legal education, access to justice and legal ethics with the delegates from Australia numbering 24. Despite this sizeable Australian contingent, it still proved impossible to reach agreement on an Australian song to sing together on the cultural evening, with the Australians ending up joining the small Irish contingent to sing “Molly Malone”.
Law firms attending and/or involved in the conference this year included law firms Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Beacon Law Corporation, CBP Lawyers, DLA Piper, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, K & L Gates and Maurice Blackburn, Russell Kennedy and clearing houses and networks including BABSEA CLE, PILnet, Trust Law, and the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH). This conference was also notable for the attendance by a good number of NGOs.
Some of the many highlights included:
- The awareness by delegates of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16 (to be soon officially adopted at a UN summit in New York) that is to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. As Nick Booth, Policy Adviser for Governance, Access to Justice and Human Rights at UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre, made the point, this is a significant development because providing access to justice will now be an official goal for all UN member states for the next 15 years, and pro bono is a vital part of the strategy for seeking to achieve that goal.