Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers
Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of
Crime and the Treatment
of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990
Whereas in the Charter of the United Nations the peoples of the world
affirm, inter alia , their determination to establish conditions under
which justice can be maintained, and proclaim as one of their purposes
the achievement of international cooperation in promoting and
encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without
distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,
Whereas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the
principles of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the
right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial
tribunal, and all the guarantees necessary for the defence of everyone
charged with a penal offence,
Whereas the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
proclaims, in addition, the right to be tried without undue delay and
the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and
impartial tribunal established by law,
Whereas the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights recalls the obligation of States under the Charter to promote
universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms,
Whereas the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under
Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment provides that a detained person
shall be entitled to have the assistance of, and to communicate and
consult with, legal counsel,
Whereas the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
recommend, in particular, that legal assistance and confidential
communication with counsel should be ensured to untried prisoners,
Whereas the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of those facing the death
penalty reaffirm the right of everyone suspected or charged with a crime
for which capital punishment may be imposed to adequate legal assistance
at all stages of the proceedings, in accordance with article 14 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Whereas the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of
Crime and Abuse of Power recommends measures to be taken at the
international and national levels to improve access to justice and fair
treatment, restitution, compensation and assistance for victims of crime,
Whereas adequate protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms
to which all persons are entitled, be they economic, social and cultural,
or civil and political, requires that all persons have effective access
to legal services provided by an independent legal profession,
Whereas professional associations of lawyers have a vital role to play
in upholding professional standards and ethics, protecting their members
from persecution and improper restrictions and infringements, providing
legal services to all in need of them, and cooperating with governmental
and other institutions in furthering the ends of justice and public
The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, set forth below, which have
been formulated to assist Member States in their task of promoting and
ensuring the proper role of lawyers, should be respected and taken into
account by Governments within the framework of their national
legislation and practice and should be brought to the attention of
lawyers as well as other persons, such as judges, prosecutors, members
of the executive and the legislature, and the public in general. These
principles shall also apply, as appropriate, to persons who exercise the
functions of lawyers without having the formal status of lawyers.
Access to lawyers and legal services
1. All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of
their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in
all stages of criminal proceedings.
2. Governments shall ensure that efficient procedures and responsive
mechanisms for effective and equal access to lawyers are provided for
all persons within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction,
without distinction of any kind, such as discrimination based on race,
colour, ethnic origin, sex, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, economic or other
3. Governments shall ensure the provision of sufficient funding and
other resources for legal services to the poor and, as necessary, to
other disadvantaged persons. Professional associations of lawyers shall
cooperate in the organization and provision of services, facilities and
4. Governments and professional associations of lawyers shall promote
programmes to inform the public about their rights and duties under the
law and the important role of lawyers in protecting their fundamental
freedoms. Special attention should be given to assisting the poor and
other disadvantaged persons so as to enable them to assert their rights
and where necessary call upon the assistance of lawyers.
Special safeguards in criminal justice matters
5. Governments shall ensure that all persons are immediately informed by
the competent authority of their right to be assisted by a lawyer of
their own choice upon arrest or detention or when charged with a
6. Any such persons who do not have a lawyer shall, in all cases in
which the interests of justice so require, be entitled to have a lawyer
of experience and competence commensurate with the nature of the offence
assigned to them in order to provide effective legal assistance, without
payment by them if they lack sufficient means to pay for such services.
7. Governments shall further ensure that all persons arrested or
detained, with or without criminal charge, shall have prompt access to a
lawyer, and in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time
of arrest or detention.
8. All arrested, detained or imprisoned persons shall be provided with
adequate opportunities, time and facilities to be visited by and to
communicate and consult with a lawyer, without delay, interception or
censorship and in full confidentiality. Such consultations may be within
sight, but not within the hearing, of law enforcement officials.
Qualifications and training
9. Governments, professional associations of lawyers and educational
institutions shall ensure that lawyers have appropriate education and
training and be made aware of the ideals and ethical duties of the
lawyer and of human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by
national and international law.
10. Governments, professional associations of lawyers and educational
institutions shall ensure that there is no discrimination against a
person with respect to entry into or continued practice within the legal
profession on the grounds of race, colour, sex, ethnic origin, religion,
political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth,
economic or other status, except that a requirement, that a lawyer must
be a national of the country concerned, shall not be considered
11. In countries where there exist groups, communities or regions whose
needs for legal services are not met, particularly where such groups
have distinct cultures, traditions or languages or have been the victims
of past discrimination, Governments, professional associations of
lawyers and educational institutions should take special measures to
provide opportunities for candidates from these groups to enter the
legal profession and should ensure that they receive training
appropriate to the needs of their groups.
Duties and responsibilities
12. Lawyers shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of their
profession as essential agents of the administration of justice.
13. The duties of lawyers towards their clients shall include:
( a ) Advising clients as to their legal rights and obligations, and as
to the working of the legal system in so far as it is relevant to the
legal rights and obligations of the clients;
( b ) Assisting clients in every appropriate way, and taking legal
action to protect their interests;
( c ) Assisting clients before courts, tribunals or administrative
authorities, where appropriate.
14. Lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting
the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental
freedoms recognized by national and international law and shall at all
times act freely and diligently in accordance with the law and
recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.
15. Lawyers shall always loyally respect the interests of their clients.
Guarantees for the functioning of lawyers
16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers ( a ) are able to perform all
of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance,
harassment or improper interference; ( b ) are able to travel and to
consult with their clients freely both within their own country and
abroad; and ( c ) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution
or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in
accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of
discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the
18. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients'
causes as a result of discharging their functions.
19. No court or administrative authority before whom the right to
counsel is recognized shall refuse to recognize the right of a lawyer to
appear before it for his or her client unless that lawyer has been
disqualified in accordance with national law and practice and in
conformity with these principles.
20. Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements
made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional
appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative
21. It is the duty of the competent authorities to ensure lawyers access
to appropriate information, files and documents in their possession or
control in sufficient time to enable lawyers to provide effective legal
assistance to their clients. Such access should be provided at the
earliest appropriate time.
22. Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and
consultations between lawyers and their clients within their
professional relationship are confidential.
Freedom of expression and association
23. Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression,
belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the
right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law,
the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human
rights and to join or form local, national or international
organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional
restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a
lawful organization. In exercising these rights, lawyers shall always
conduct themselves in accordance with the law and the recognized
standards and ethics of the legal profession.
Professional associations of lawyers
24. Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing
professional associations to represent their interests, promote their
continuing education and training and protect their professional
integrity. The executive body of the professional associations shall be
elected by its members and shall exercise its functions without external
25. Professional associations of lawyers shall cooperate with
Governments to ensure that everyone has effective and equal access to
legal services and that lawyers are able, without improper interference,
to counsel and assist their clients in accordance with the law and
recognized professional standards and ethics.
26. Codes of professional conduct for lawyers shall be established by
the legal profession through its appropriate organs, or by legislation,
in accordance with national law and custom and recognized international
standards and norms.
27. Charges or complaints made against lawyers in their professional
capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under appropriate
procedures. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing, including
the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice.
28. Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers shall be brought before an
impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession,
before an independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall
be subject to an independent judicial review.
29. All disciplinary proceedings shall be determined in accordance with
the code of professional conduct and other recognized standards and
ethics of the legal profession and in the light of these principles.