Estonian Bar Association strikes lawyer off its membership rolls

Robert Sarv
Robert Sarv Source: Gergey Lukecha/ERR

A lawyer known for making controversial statements and for acting in damages claims against online commentators has been struck off the list of the main professional association governing lawyers' activities in Estonia.

The board of the Estonian Bar Association (Eesti Advokatuur) ruled on Tuesday that Robert Sarv, a sworn advocate (vandeadvokaat), is excluded from its membership. Sarv says he will continue to work as a lawyer (jurist) and, while he disagrees with the decision, will not contest it, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Tuesday evening.

Estonian Bar Association chair Jaanus Tehver told AK that: "The professional suitability committee did not justify its decision due to one oversight, but on the grounds of several continuous violations, which continued even after attention to their commission had been drawn."

"Inappropriate public statements and damage to the reputation of the legal profession were some of the many allegations," Tehver added.

Tehver stressed that the Estonian Bar Association, as a professional body independent of the state, can act in public interest without hesitation against any misdeed, including any by the state itself.

This means the association itself must set high standards, Tehver said. "This independence also means that the Estonian Bar Association itself must ensure that lawyers meet the requirements for professional suitability."

"This is the context to today's whole decision - working as a lawyer requires meeting the highest professional standards," Tehver added.

Sarv had been a member of the Estonian Bar Association since September 2011 and had been a sworn advocate since February 2015, ERR reports.

Sarv's recent clients included football coach Fredo Getulio Aurelio, who last year was under criminal suspicion of sexual abuse and has been barred from working as a football coach.

Investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian) reports that the bar association's honorary court had repeatedly discussed complaints made against Sarv in recent years, and in the opinion of its professional suitability committee (Advokatuuri kutsesobivuskomisjon), Sarv did not act on a one-off basis, in the course of his work as a lawyer, but repeatedly behaved inappropriately.

Eesti Ekspress states that being struck off by the Estonian Bar Association does not prevent Sarv from continuing to act as a lawyer or legal advisor in future if he so desires, and in practice can provide clients with virtually the same level of legal service as a sworn advocate who is a member of the bar association.

He may not be a partner in a law firm or run his own law firm, however.

Bar association assessment timeline

At a sitting last June, the Estonian Bar Association's board decided to assess Sarv's professional suitability as a sworn advocate.

The board inspected various documents and court files relating to his professional activities, and held an evaluation interview with him on January 13 this year.

On the basis of this interview, the board found that Sarv's knowledge of professional requirements and his ethical beliefs did not equate to the requirements for working as a lawyer, resulting in his expulsion on Tuesday this week.

Sarv had submitted his opinion on the assessment of his professional suitability on February 1, the association said, and did not object to either his being assessed or his being barred, and will not contest the decision.

Sarv is entitled, however, to appeal the decision at the first-tier Tallinn Administrative Court.

Sarv: I long wanted to quit the association, I will continue working as a lawyer

Sarv stated publicly to ERR Tuesday evening that he had wanted to leave the bar association in any case since the start of last year and had remained a member after both colleagues and his mother persuaded him to do so

Sarv said that he would continue to work as a lawyer – the Estonian term would be a jurist – and reiterated to ERR that he would not be challenging the association's decision, though he disagreed with it.

The association is characterized by mean-spiritedness and by ambiguity, Sarv added, and he has no desire to remain in its ranks.

He also said that he realized that being struck off was inevitable once he attended the suitability interview last month.

Sarv said: "When I went there, my initial question was whether they were willing to correct their factual and out-of-context mistakes. They refused to do so, and said they simply had their questions. At that point I realized that being expelled from the bar was only a matter of time."

Emerald Legal, the firm Sarv has been a partner in up until now, will continue its activities, Sarv added, and he will be able to work there still, as a lawyer, and as a board member, but cannot be listed on the private limited company's list of shareholders.

"I just can't be a shareholder," he added.

The Estonian Bar Association has been a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) since 1992 and a full member of a body uniting the bar associations of the member states of the European Union (CCBE) since 2004, the association says on its website.

The association had a membership of 1,083 as of October 7 2021.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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