Report: The Duties of States under International Law for the Protection of Judges, Prosecutors, and Lawyers

January 2023

This document offers an analysis of the international standards that protect the independence of magistrates, judges, and prosecutors, and of lawyers facing arbitrary disciplinary proceedings, administrative removals, immunity removal and political trials, criminal proceedings, challenges, and complaints before bar associations. It also covers ways to ensure the independence of practicing lawyers, even when acting in their capacity as human rights defenders.

This document was originally offered as an annex to the report “Criminalization of justice operators in Guatemala as a strategy to ensure impunity,” published in December 2022. Here it is presented as an autonomous document, aimed at serving judges, magistrates, attorneys general, prosecutors, and lawyers in situations related to maintaining their independence in the course of their work. The report specifically examines the international standards for justice operators facing situations such as:

  • Arbitrary disciplinary proceedings,
  • Administrative removals,
  • Immunity removal and political trials,
  • Criminal proceedings,
  • Challenges, and
  • Complaints before bar associations.

Among its main findings, the document notes that the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights enshrine the rights to freedoms of expression, assembly and association for judges, prosecutors and lawyers. It also refers to the principles of international law and the international mechanisms of “soft law” on this subject, finding that States must ensure and protect these rights, and that any limits placed on them must be reasonable and related to the impartiality required by the administration of justice.

It also concluded that states should avoid “disguised sanctions” against judges and prosecutors; while a judge or prosecutor may be subject to disciplinary sanctions, the sanction should be proportionate to the severity of the misconduct. The report emphasizes that judges and prosecutors can be removed from their positions or sanctioned only through procedures that comply with due process of law and allow for independent review of the decision.

With regard to lawyers, the report highlights the obligation of states to ensure the existence of an independent legal profession, and notes that lawyers who act in the capacity as human rights defenders are also entitled to all the rights recognized by international instruments and jurisprudence on the rights of human rights defenders.

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