Bar association voices concern over searches of law offices ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Estonian Bar Association board chairman Jaanus Tehver.
Estonian Bar Association board chairman Jaanus Tehver. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The Estonian Bar Association has expressed serious concern over all cases in which law offices have been searched, describing as extremely serious the jeopardizing of the rule of professional confidentiality imposed in the interests of clients.

"Exceptional cases with searches of a law office or an attorney and other infringements on professional confidentiality, such as seizures of documents and media, monitoring of communication between an attorney and a client as part of surveillance activity and similar, should be very strictly and precisely regulated, and the Estonian Bar Association sees issues with this both in existing law as well as in procedural practice," said attorney Jaanus Tehver, chairman of the board of the Estonian Bar Association.

"In other words, the protection of the confidentiality of the information entrusted by clients to attorneys needs stronger guarantees, and the Estonian Bar Association intends to submit its own proposals to legislators regarding the matter as well," he added.

According to Tehver, the Estonian Bar Association takes an equally serious approach to cases in which an attorney is suspected or accused of committing a criminal offense.

"If an attorney commits a criminal offense in their own interests or in the interests of a client, they cannot rely in their professional activity on the guarantees to attorneys' activities, including the intactness of a law office," the board chairman explained. "All actions ascribed to an attorney that provide grounds for declaring an attorney suspect in a criminal offense and search of a law office receive the highest attention of both the board and the honor court of the Estonian Bar Association. When an attorney is found guilty under criminal law, their continuing their activity as a lawyer is ruled out."

Lawyer: Hardly a tendency

In the same press release, attorney Dmitri Školjar said that he finds it difficult to believe that the arrest of a judge and lawyer last week represent a tendency.

"The situation in the current case is different and differs substantially from what happened in the search of the Sillar office last year," Školjar said. "Attorney Sven Sillar was not a suspect, and at the time his office was searched, Sillar was defending a client in a criminal case. By the looks of it, the impression was left that the state overstepped its limits, and influenced the attorney in doing so."

He recalled that a very strong reaction followed at the time, and opinions were expressed by other lawyers, the chairman of the board of the Estonian Bar Association, the chief justice of the Supreme Court as well as MPs.

"In this case, the situation is different — the attorney himself is a suspect in a criminal offense, which does not yet mean that he is a criminal and will be found guilty of a crime," Školjar said.

He noted that the prohibition on searches of law offices and attorneys included in the guarantees to lawyers' activities is not absolute, and aforementioned actions can only be justified  in exceptional cases which are provided for by the Constitution or the Code of Criminal Procedure, such as an attorney being connected with a criminal offense.

"The problem lies in the Code of Criminal Procedure not outlining the bases and a precise procedure for how a search in a law office must be conducted, how to ensure confidentiality, and how to do so in a way that a law office's clients and materials related to them on the law office's premises are not jeopardized," Školjar said. "Society must be sure that information entrusted to an attorney will be confidential under all circumstances, for which we need two things at once: specific regulations in the law, and effective judicial review."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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