Call for total reform of Iranian judiciary

Iran's judiciary requires a root-and-branch overhaul if international confidence is to be restored in the country's adherence to the rule of law, a leading group of civil society expatriates claimed today.

Tehran: lawyers feel the strain

Their call came as it emerged that an Iranian cartoonist who had been sentenced to 25 lashes for insulting one of the country’s MPs was reprieved after the politician withdrew his original complaint.

Cowed lawyers

Iran’s judges are considered to be completely dominated by the Islamic government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and ultimately by ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. There is no independent legal profession, with lawyers being routinely cowed by the authorities. According to observers, a recently implemented Iranian law allows judges almost arbitrarily to decide that national security issues are involved in specific cases and that therefore all lawyers are excluded from those hearings.
The expat group of lawyers, writers and academics met at a London meeting organised by the think tank, the Legatum Institute. Some at the gathering maintained that nothing short of completely sweeping away all existing judges in Iran would be necessary.
However, Anne Applebaum, the institute’s director of political studies, said the general view was that an internationally-sponsored judicial retraining exercise would be more practical. ‘You can stop justice for 10 years in a country while you train a new group of judges,’ she said.

Cultural memory

While the judiciary and lawyers are currently oppressed by the ruling regime, Ms Applebaum’s team maintained there was sufficient cultural memory of a pre-Islamic state to provide hope that an independent legal profession could be revived. The Legatum team pointed out that under the former shah, one of the few institutions allowed to conduct independent elections was the country’s bar association.
The recent lashing sentence of cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraye triggered outrage and protest among international human rights organisations. According to The Guardian newspaper, the aggrieved MP attempted to distance himself from the sentence, releasing a statement, maintaining that he had only intended to sue the publication, but that the court itself had charged the individual cartoonist.


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