Global survey of lawyers finds corruption tainting legal profession in many countries

By Gillian Wong, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Survey finds corruption tainting legal profession

BEIJING — A worldwide survey shows that lawyers in many countries think corruption has tainted their profession, with more than one in five saying they have been asked to take part in possibly shady transactions, according to results released Monday.

The London-based International Bar Association said nearly half of the 642 lawyers in 95 countries it surveyed earlier this year say corruption affected lawyers in their countries — including all of the respondents surveyed in Pakistan, China and Guatemala.

The results of the survey were being launched at the association’s annual conference in Vancouver, Canada, on Monday.

Results varied according to region. In Australia and New Zealand, only 16 percent of lawyers thought corruption was an issue, compared to more than 70 percent in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, the association said in a report.

One in three of all lawyers surveyed said they had lost business to corrupt law firms or individuals, it said.

The report noted that the results of the June 15-July 5 survey were not representative of the countries covered, due to the small sample size. In Pakistan and Guatemala, one to five lawyers responded to the online survey, while in China, six to 10 did.

Ramon Cadena, the International Commission of Jurists’ Guatemala staff director, said corruption in the legal profession tends to be common in countries like Guatemala where organized crime and drug trafficking have a strong presence.

“These networks rely on obstruction of justice, corruption and violence to achieve their objectives,” Cadena said. He said big companies also practice corruption, citing the use of lawyers to obtain licenses for mines in areas where such activities would normally be banned.

Cadena said judges, magistrates and even justices on the supreme court or constitutional court often keep their links to law firms. “In many cases, they even rule on cases that are handled by lawyers in the law firms in which they are senior partners,” he said.

In China, a prominent human rights lawyer said attorneys sometimes find that they have to bribe the police, state prosecutors or judges. He blamed it on a lack of independent checks in the country’s judicial system.

“Corruption in the legal profession exists in democratic countries, but it happens on a smaller scale than in China, because in China there are no opposition parties and the media are controlled by the government,” said Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing-based lawyer who was not involved in the survey.

China’s leaders have identified corruption as a threat to the country’s prosperity, but an opaque political system dominated by the ruling Communist Party — which brooks no dissent — and the lack of an independent judiciary contribute to the problem.

Earlier this year, a court sentenced Huang Songyou, a former supreme court judge, to life imprisonment after convicting him of embezzlement and bribery — the highest judge to be tried and convicted on such charges. In August, the former director of the Chongqing Municipal Judicial Bureau was executed after being found guilty of bribery, rape, extortion and gang-related activities.

The survey by the global lawyers’ group also found that 40 percent of respondents had never heard of international anti-corruption treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Associated Press Writer Juan Carlos Llorca in Guatemala and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.

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