Myanmar’s legal profession moves to establish National Bar Association

Myanmar’s legal profession has taken a significant step towards establishing an independent, representative national bar association by forming an inclusive interim committee to steer its creation. This measure follows a legal seminar recently held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, organised by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and hosted by the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law and Tranquillity. Lawyers from across 12 of Myanmar’s 15 administrative divisions attended the three-day event.
The seminar took place on 13–15 February at the Royal Kumudra Hotel, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, and included representatives from international organisations and civil society. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a keynote address on the first day of the event, followed by IBA President Michael Reynolds. He said ‘The IBAHRI seminar is the first time that so many lawyers in Myanmar have assembled to learn about the role of a bar association and to discuss the development of the country’s legal profession. One delegate remarked “we have been waiting 30 years for this”’. The IBA President concludes that ‘while many challenges lie ahead, Myanmar’s lawyers have taken the first important steps to establish an independent representative bar association and we will fully support their endeavours.’
On the second day of the event, international and regional speakers addressed a plenary session entitled ‘Bar Association’s Best Practices: An International and Regional Approach’. Speakers included: Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director; Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, Immediate Past-President of the Law Society of England and Wales; Lim Chee Wee, Immediate Past-President of the Malaysian Bar Association; Margery Nicoll, Deputy Secretary-General and Director of the Law Council of Australia International Division; Colin Wright, Council Member of the Hong Kong Bar Association; and Shirley Pouget, IBAHRI Senior Programme Lawyer.
The third and final day of the event comprised breakout sessions led by national and international facilitators, and summarised by Robert Pé, a partner at law firm Orrick. Eight groups of 16–20 delegates formed to discuss issues around independence, governance, objectives, ethics, and bar associations’ codes of conduct.
Commenting on the next steps for the establishment of a national bar association, Mark Ellis said: ‘The success and legitimacy of the process to establish an independent national bar for Myanmar depends on the endorsement of Myanmar’s legal profession as a whole. The inclusiveness of all legal practitioners, networks and groups in Myanmar is of paramount importance and we urge those present at the seminar to engage in consultation with colleagues at their respective bar associations, lawyer networks, groups and communities on this important issue.’ He concluded: ‘To assist the Myanmar legal profession, the IBA will seek engagement with all relevant stakeholders, including the Myanmar Government and Parliament, and notably the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law and Tranquillity. We place our expertise in developing bar associations at Myanmar’s legal profession’s disposal.’