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Pro bono lawyers help graft watchdogs keep states honest

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 18 Jul 2011 17:38 GMT
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LONDON (TrustLaw) – Lawyers from nine law firms are working free of charge to help anti-graft groups make sure countries are living up to their obligations under a global treaty to stamp out corruption.

Eight years after the launch of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), non-governmental watchdog Transparency International (TI) is leading the charge to see how far states have gone in criminalising corruption in their own backyards and cooperating across borders to thwart graft and recover assets.

“In our interdependent world, corruption is a global phenomenon and requires global solutions,” said Gillian Dell, TI’s programme manager for conventions. “UNCAC provides a much-needed global framework for countering corruption.”

So far 154 states have signed and ratified UNCAC. All have agreed to a peer-review process in which each country is assessed by two other states that have fully signed up to the treaty. That process takes place over a five-year cycle, with 27 countries under the microscope in the current first round.

But civil society organisations led by Transparency International are conducting their own review to keep states honest. These anti-graft crusaders call themselves the UNCAC Coalition and plan to publish their reports in parallel to the peer-review process.

“A review cannot rely only on the government’s evaluation of its own performance, which is naturally not objective and might overlook deficiencies,” Dell said. “For a more rounded picture, it is necessary also to take into account the views of non-governmental groups with expertise in the areas covered by the review.

“The civil society organisation reports may contain more information than the official review reports and may come to different conclusions. It is important to know this in order to be able to assess how well the official review process is functioning.”


Enter the lawyers. Led by law giant Mayer Brown, nine law firms are contributing hundreds of pro bono hours to helping the UNCAC Coalition assess 10 of the 27 first-round states.

Mayer Brown came to the project through Thomson Reuters Foundation’s TrustLaw Connect service, which connects lawyers who are willing to offer their services for free to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social entrepreneurs who have a legal need.

Once Mayer Brown had agreed to act as the coordinating law firm on the project, TI used the TrustLaw Connect service to find other law firms also willing to assist UNCAC Coalition members. The TrustLaw service helped TI recruit law firms in Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Argentina.

At the same time, Mayer Brown enlisted lawyers in its United States and Paris offices to work with TI-USA and TI-France on their reports and also persuaded law firms in Lithuania, Brazil, Chile and Peru and to work pro bono for their local UNCAC Coalition member.

Thirteen UNCAC Coalition members were either unwilling or unable to carry out a review of their country’s UNCAC obligations. A further four UNCAC Coalition members requested assistance but despite the best efforts of both TrustLaw Connect and Mayer Brown, law firms with the appropriate expertise could not be found.

 “The nature of this project means that the true impact will only be gauged in the long term, if we look at it from the perspective of successfully tackling bribery and corruption and encouraging effective local implementation,” Andrew Legg, a partner at Mayer Brown, said.

“In the immediate term we hope and believe we’ve established good private legal practice and NGO relationships, positively impacting knowledge-sharing and efficiency when it comes to tackling such tough issues.

“There is still a long way to go but we seem to be making good progress thanks to the hard work of all parties involved so far.”

The 27 countries that are undergoing year-one UNCAC reviews are Zambia, Uganda, Togo, Morocco, Sao Tome and Principe, Rwanda, Niger, Burundi, Jordan, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Lithuania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Chile, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, United States, Finland, Spain, France.

The 10 countries that have received pro bono assistance are the United States, France, Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru.

The nine law firms that are providing pro bono assistance are Mayer Brown; Blake Dawson; Clifford Chance LLC; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP; Sorainen; Estudio Beccar Varela; Tauil & Chequer; Philippi, Yrarrazaval, Pulido & Brunner; Miranda & Amado.

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