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Lawyers don’t enter court rooms, they protest against the liberalisation of the profession

05 March 2012 / 21:03:54  GRReporter
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Today and tomorrow Greek lawyers are holding a 48-hour strike. The decision for its conduct was taken at a general meeting of the leadership of their colleges over the weekend in Thessaloniki. There will be two more strike days – on the 15th and 16th of February. Lawyers stopped working as a protest against the draft bill of the Ministry of Justice, through which the so-called "fair trial" will be introduced. The legal text will be voted by parliament tomorrow.

GRReporter contacted a member of the College of Barristers in Athens. According to Vassilis Katsafados the bill provides for a number of changes that "will act to the detriment of society. A number of fees will be increased and new ones will be introduced, such as the fee for the exercise of appeal, which did not exist until now and will it will amount to 200 euro. In this way justice will become a privilege of the people who can afford to pay".

The new bill also provides that the majority of cases will be transferred from the circuit to the district courts. For some of the cases the presence of a lawyer will no longer be required, which according to the representatives of the profession may prove to be dangerous for the citizens. "This is particularly true for the cases when it comes to dispute with the banks, where the citizen can be placed in a difficult situation for him", said Vassilis Katsafados.

One of the main reasons for the negative attitude of the lawyers towards the draft bill is that it provides for the establishment of law firms. "In this case the danger of creating a cartel is much greater. Imagine how much the competition in the pricing of the services will decrease when we will no longer talk about many different freelance lawyers and attorneys but for a certain number of law firms that will form those prices. In addition, attorneys will have the status of employees, rather than "servants" of justice, as they are in essence. This will also mean that the owner of such a company can hire lawyers at very low wages. I.e. the key issue for these companies will be the capital. Not to mention that at some point the owners may not even be lawyers. In the memorandum, which was passed by parliament a few weeks ago, is required the establishment of companies that offer many different types of services".

Greek lawyers respond the calls that their profession should be liberalised saying that it is currently more than open. "There are thousands of lawyers in the country and I do not understand how much more our profession should be liberalised. Especially in Athens lawyers are so numerous that in the times of a crisis, some of us have a minimum income, and there are months when they are equal to zero", said Vassilis Katsafados. He added that it is wrong to draw conclusions about all the lawyers, only from looking at "a small minority of "eminent" lawyers, known from the media."

The fact that most young lawyers can not secure themselves even a minimum monthly income "creates a "scientific proletariat" and the consequences can be dangerous. In the talks, representatives of other professions such as engineers share their concern that this situation will inevitably lead to leak of young professionals abroad. And this will be a great loss of intellectual potential for our country".

Lawyers also respond to the attacks that they belong to a privileged professional caste by saying that most of them belong to middle class society. "They say we are privileged mostly because many of the members of parliament are lawyers. I want to remind you that the changes that affected us from the previous bill were passed. Indeed, some MPs who are lawyers decided not to sit in the Chamber during the vote, but their position was not decisive and the changes were adopted."

Vassilis Katsafados believes that the controversial bill will be adopted at tomorrow's vote. "We'll wait and see how things will go and then we will decide what action to take in the future." Currently he and some of his other colleagues are gathering signatures with the purpose of forcing the leadership of the Athens College of Barristers to hold a meeting of the general assembly, which the President avoids to convene in violation of the Code of lawyers.

"Yes, there are colleagues who are against the strike. But decisions about their conduct are adopted at the meetings in a democratic way by the existing majority."

At their meeting the Presidents of Bar Associations throughout the country also decided to conduct a symbolic blockade of the District Court in Athens on 16th of March. A day later they will be in session again to determine the next protest actions of the guild.


Tags: Society lawyers liberalisation of the profession law firms college of barristers
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