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To show respect to a client and in turn gain respect and trust’: Towards establishing a Community of Practice of Defenders in Myanmar

MyJustice is engaged a range of initiatives to support better access to justice for the people of Myanmar. The programme is supporting International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) to scale up Justice Centres in four locations in Myanmar. IBJ conducted a national training in Mandalay with 140 lawyers from the 26th till the 28th of July 2017, on criminal defence and legal aid, in order to build lawyers’ practical and conceptual legal skills and to galvanize and motivate lawyers to strengthen their commitment to legal aid and pro bono practice.

The participants came from across the country and included the lawyers from the currently operational Justice Centres supported through MyJustice as well as the two scheduled to be opened before the end of 2017. Participants also included another pro bono lawyers and members of civil society organizations.

The trainers used a combination of lectures, hypothetical case materials, and group work to deliver sessions on client-centered lawyering, the rights of the accused and responsibilities of legal aid lawyers, effective investigation and interviewing techniques, cross-examination skills and effective storytelling in closing arguments. The lawyers participated enthusiastically and shared their experience as well as lessons learned in practicing legal aid in the Myanmar context and the implications of the new legal aid law.

Daw Nila, Regional Officer of Second Tap Root in Mandalay, said “we learned a lot of things that will benefit us. The way the training has been designed is very effective and useful. For example, the trainer from Sri Lanka gave a talk about the past, present, and future. I found that very relatable to the research work that I do for criminal and civil cases concerning children and I plan to use the learning in my work.”

The training was a unique opportunity for lawyers, many of whom expressed that they have had limited opportunity to access this kind of capacity building opportunity. Furthermore, it was a rare chance for lawyers to meet and discuss their practice with other lawyers in person.

Daw Win Nandar Htut Khung, Advocate of the Mandalay Justice Centre said, “This training is very important because there are so many lawyers here from different provinces and young lawyers including chamber students. There are some lawyers that have never handled a case. This room has people of different levels and experience and they can share experiences and update their knowledge or learn for the first time together.”

The lawyers found new approaches and techniques, offered by the training, particularly useful.

Daw Chaw Kalaya, Advocate from Shan State said, “To be honest, in some of the work that we do, there is a lack of structure and technique. During this training, we learned about the step by step process that we need to follow. Although we have used some of the techniques taught here, there was no structure since we didn’t have a clear guideline to follow. Here, they taught us not only the skills but how and when to use them. They provided tools that are more effective.”

An observation from one participant captures the essence of this training initiative. “The most important thing I took from this training is how to show respect to the client and in turn gain respect and trust,” said U Win Min Aung, an advocate from Mandalay Region.

The training represents a joint effort by MyJustice and IBJ to launch the Myanmar Defenders Community of Practice, a platform to mentor and train lawyers throughout Myanmar to provide high-quality legal representation to indigent and marginalized people. Lessons learned through this Community of Practice can hopefully assist the Union of Myanmar as it designs a system to provide legal assistance for the poor under the new Legal Aid Law.