Raising professional skills of defense lawyers in business crime cases

Period: January 2013 — January 2014
In 2013/14, young Russian lawyers from St Petersburg had an opportunity to take part in the project “Raising Professional Skills of Defence Lawyers in Business Crime Cases”implemented in the frames of the Foreign Office Bilateral Projects Programme. 

The project was organised by Citizens’ Watch in collaboration with St. Petersburg Institute of Law named after Prince Oldenburgsky, St Petersburg Lawyers Chambers Institute for Legal Research, Advocacy and Mediation, and International Bar “St Petersburg.” The UK partners were Robert Brown, Corker Binning and Thomas Price QC, 25 Bedford Row Chambers, who were invited to work as trainers.

The project lasted 9 months and included a series of events in Russia and the UK: two introductory lectures in St. Petersburg delivered by the UK trainers, two training seminars in litigation skills run in St. Petersburg by a joint trainers’ team and a study trip of Russian lawyers to the UK. A collection of the project material was published in 200 copies to be disseminated in St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. The book contains guidance on working with clients in general and business crime cases, based on the experience of British and Russian practising lawyers; general information about lawyers organisations in England and Wales; international documents setting standards for lawyers; and selected chapters from the Codes of Conduct for barristers and solicitors in England and Wales, translated into Russian.

This training programme was unique in our experience and so provided a very rare opportunity to understand more about English law and its traditions and practice.

In the course of the project, St Petersburg lawyers were introduced to the profession of a defence lawyer in England and Wales, the roles of solicitors and barristers, the codes of professional conduct, and the procedures related to conducting crime cases. Besides, the English trainers shared their experiences in representing clients in all types of criminal cases, including typical business crime cases.

The seminars held in St Petersburg included training in specific skills, such as interviewing and advising clients, preparing a defence position, working with experts, conducting an examination in chief of witnesses in court, preparing cross examination and performing opening and closing speeches.

The project was aimed to promote the integration of young Russian lawyers into the European legal community. With this purpose in mind, a study visit to London was organised for a group of St Petersburg lawyers. The lawyers from St Petersburg had a chance to observe trials at Westminster Magistrates Court, Central Criminal Court and the Royal Courts of Justice, as well as meet with their English colleagues at law firms (Corker Binning and Bivonas Solicitors) and chambers (25 Bedford Row Chambers and 9 Gough Square Chambers). Particularly memorable was a visit to the Middle Temple Inn where the Russian delegates were happily lost in the traditional atmosphere of the English legal history, hearing about the significance of Magna Carta and the Knights Templar. We were even fortunate enough to meet briefly with Lord Justice Judge, the recent Lord Chief Justice. After the group programme, the Russian lawyers spent two days individually with law firms shadowing solicitors and barristers in their daily work.

This study visit was extremely useful both for the trainees and for the Russian trainers. Watching criminal proceedings and talking to English lawyers helped us re-define the role of a defence lawyer in each particular case and in the society in general; to compare the ways of organising the work of defence lawyers in Russia and in the UK, to think more deeply about the professional ethics and to see examples of professional behaviour. The visit inspired the Russian participants not only to continue their own professional training, but also to discuss the improvement of professional training in general and to think about arranging further training for their colleagues in St Petersburg.

The work with UK partners has driven us to think about the next phase of the project. It would be helpful to continue exchanging experiences in specific practices, as well as professional training.

A range of issues would be interesting to explore, such as: keeping up professional standards; providing legal aid to vulnerable groups given limited public funding; non-judicial remedies for resolving disputes; working with cultural diversities of clients, lawyers and legal practices; overcoming the traditional historic and political confrontation of Russia with Western Europe that prevents access of foreign lawyers to the local market and causes problems with the application of ECtHR standards by Russian courts.

We hope to seek cooperation with UK partners again to arrange training for Russian trainers so that they could later themselves run training programmes in litigation skills for their younger colleagues. At the next stage, we aim, with the help of UK experts, to develop criteria for professional training and for evaluating the quality of the work performed by young lawyers.

Photo by Chris Briggs on Unsplash