The International Bar Association (IBA) Annual Conference, widely regarded as the foremost event for legal professionals worldwide to convene, share knowledge, and build contacts, concluded successfully on November 4, 2023, in Paris, France. The conference extends legal experts' commitment to the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. The International Bar Association (IBA) is a global network of over 80,000 individual members who are dedicated to defending and advancing the rule of law. Its mission is to increase legal professionals’ awareness of their ability to make significant contributions, while striving to harmonize legal traditions with contemporary issues. The International Bar Association functions as a platform for lawyers worldwide, advancing the development of international law. By emphasizing its role in climate change, human rights protection, independence of the judiciary, and international trade, it provides world-class professional development opportunities to members of the legal community. This enables them to provide excellent legal representation and pro bono support to their clients. The conference aims to facilitate a discussion on legal reform and social justice amidst the ongoing conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, disruptions in the energy market, and the effects of the climate crisis.
Over 6,000 delegates from the legal profession across 130 jurisdictions attended the conference, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the IBA. During the opening ceremony on October 29, 2023, former Brexit negotiator and French foreign affairs minister Michel Barnier urged leaders from the EU, US, and Middle East to collaboratively pursue a peace process and the establishment of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. In his speech, Barnier asserted that the security and sovereignty of Israel is non-negotiable. He further proclaimed his allegiance to freedom and democracy against terrorism. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that a sustainable peace in the Middle East, controlled by the United Nations, can only be achieved by the establishment of a Palestinian state. He stated that France and the world are currently in a crucial moment where power struggles are attempting to overthrow relations based on law. He referred to the ongoing Ukraine conflict, which has resulted in crimes that international justice must swiftly and severely judge. In a broad speech emphasizing French dominance in the post-Brexit legal and financial system, he stated that France aims to make Paris the leading financial center in Europe. The conference was also addressed by the President of France. During the opening ceremony, IBA President Almudena Arpón de MendívilAldama discussed the IBA's contributions to global rule of law, human rights, and professional development for lawyers. She also emphasized the impact of artificial intelligence on various sectors, including the legal field. She discussed the influence of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) movement on diversity, equity, and inclusivity; talent attraction and retention; as well as the advancement and protection of the rule of law.
The Conference also scheduled an interview with Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin where he mentioned that the prosecutor’s office of Ukraine had been working relentlessly to bring those responsible for crimes of aggression and genocide to account. The session provided him with a platform to set out Ukraine’s case for the need for the establishment of a special tribunal akin to the Nuremberg trials, which brought Nazi war criminals to account after the Second World War. Kostin said his office and partners across the world had been gathering evidence of alleged war crimes to ensure they have a strong case to bring forward prosecutions of the perpetrators. He said, “I believe that a special tribunal should be created and should be of international dimension. The crime of aggression is an international crime, and so to punish those who started it, the response should be international. “With such a tribunal, Ukrainian victims will not only feel vindicated, but it will also create a deterrent effect for other potential aggressors. The UN’s Security Council will not serve as a sufficient instrument due to veto rules. We need an international judicial instrument.”
For the first time in 20 years, a female president named Almudena Arpón de Mendívil Aldama presides over the International Bar Association's annual conference. In an interview, President Aldama shared her goal of improving the law industry's societal contribution and enhancing public perception of attorneys. Despite the pro bono work and client services offered by lawyers, public perception concerning the profession remains lackluster. The speaker aims to address this during her term, emphasizing the social impact of lawyers among her five key priorities. As she stated, "the contribution of lawyers to society is highly pertinent to the operation of justice, business, and personal relationships. Their work sets in motion the entire architecture of the rule of law, thereby establishing an orderly and functioning society."
She stated that the IBA Conference was designed as a platform for discussing the role of the IBA and its contributions to society. The conference highlighted showcase sessions on various topics such as artificial intelligence (AI), environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, gender equality, rule of law, and professional ethics, to name a few. The conference focused on discussing the impact of artificial intelligence on the legal profession, the significance of ESG in law firms' work for clients, and the importance of female leadership in law firms.
The IBA conference was attended by three Nepalese lawyers, including Advocate Saroj K Ghimire, who spoke at two sessions. Ghimire is the first Nepalese lawyer to speak at the IBA conference for four consecutive years, beginning with the 2017 IBA Annual Conference in Sydney, followed by Seoul 2019, Miami 2022, and Paris 2023. During the Session on Law School curricula and the future legal practice, led by the Academic and Professional Development Committee and the IBA Legal Policy & Research Unit, Ghimire argued that unless law school curricula are designed to reflect the changing nature of society and innovative approaches to legal problem-solving, analysis and interpretation, the legal profession may struggle to attract and retain skilled legal minds. He stated that society is rapidly changing, with new legal issues emerging, such as data protection, artificial intelligence, climate justice, and cybersecurity. If legal curricula only concentrate on traditional concepts and methodologies, it will be challenging for young lawyers to sustain a career and obtain employment at international law firms.
He analyzed the conventional structure of law school curricula in Nepal and the dearth of expert academicians in new legal issues, which presents a challenge in introducing updated curricula in law schools. On the third day of the session on the rule of law as a mission of a law firm, balancing profitability and making a wider contribution, Ghimire presented on the importance of law firms contributing to and supporting the rule of law. He emphasized the role of law firms towards clients in ensuring strict adherence to the values of rule of law and human rights.
He expressed that law firms should not only focus on earning, but they should also act as watchdogs towards their clients' performance to ensure that the rule of law and human rights are not jeopardized by enterprise performance. Ghimire discussed the role of the Nepal Bar Association in promoting human rights, rule of law, democracy, and the independence of the judiciary, as well as the active role of Nepali lawyers in all democratic movements in Nepal. He highlighted the significance and function of the IBA and Bar Associations in educating and training their members to enhance their professional abilities and dedication to upholding the rule of law, which is a crucial aspect of a law firm's mission.
Advocate Ghimire is a lawyer at the Supreme Court of Nepal and is also the Coordinator of the International Relations Committee for the Supreme Court Bar Association. During his presentation, he emphasized the importance of Bar Associations concentrating their training and professional activities on young lawyers, in order to increase their competency and competitiveness on an international level. Additionally, he suggested that Bar Associations work towards facilitating the migration of lawyers into non-legal professions.
He emphasized the significance of motivating young lawyers to participate in the IBA Conference for the purpose of enhancing their professional skills and networks. Through meeting numerous legal experts and lawyers, they can gain an extensive understanding of the developing jurisprudence of legal issues worldwide. He further noted that his participation in the IBA Annual Conference as a delegate and speaker is aimed at representing Nepali lawyers on a global platform, rather than for personal gain. This is a rare opportunity for lawyers in this jurisdiction to engage in IBA trainings and conferences. I am pleased that Nepali lawyers have expressed interest in participating in IBA conferences. Such participation can enhance knowledge of legal development, professionalism, and legal ethics.