The first Foreign Affairs Commission was established in 1992. This marked the beginning of a certain form of institutionalisation of our foreign contacts nationawide. Since then, almost 25 years of uninterrupted acvtitiy of the Bar in this field have passed, with the current Foreign Affairs Committee being the direct successor of the former Foreign Commission. One thing that can be emphasised at this point is that during these two decades not only the area of our activity but also the international environment of our work has radically changed.
In the early 90s the main task of the Commission was to establish relations with Bar Councils and Law Societies in Europe and around the world. Our presence in the international arena began with developing contacts with Bar Councils from Western Europe and the United States. Particularly active in this field were our colleagues from the US, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland, who created a series of educational programmes for the Polish lawyers, including trainings in Poland and abroad. A prominent example in this context were the activities undertaken by a Danish lawyer, Mr Rolf Meurs-Gerken, who organised for three consecutive years in Copenhagen monthly seminars for groups of thirty lawyers from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Other Danish lawyers have supported the project providing the pariticpants with free accommodation so that to reduce their costs. Polish lawyers proved to be competent professionals acting as first ‘ambassadors’ of the Polish legal a community abroad. One must admit that all the contacts created thanks to such projects were of invaluable assistance in the activities of the then Foreign Commission, leading to our subsequent membership in international organisations of lawyers.
The first multilateral forum for cooperation was a project carried out with our Italian and Spanish colleagues for the organisation of a series of conferences and seminars in the field of labour law. This was carried out as part of the European Club on Labour Law created in 1995. The next step was the grant of membership in the European Association of Lawyers (AEA-EAL), an international organisation bringing together legal practitioners from Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
Our international activity in AEA-EAL as well as our very good contacts with lawyers from the EU Member States have allowed us to commence the efforts to join the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE). This organisation had brought together all Bar Councils and Law Societies from the Member States of the European Community, the European Free Trade Community, EU candidate countries as well as other European countries. The Foreign Commission launched its efforts to obtain the status of a CCBE observer member for the National Council in 1997 (full membership was reserved for countries belonging to the European Communities). These steps were not easy. At that time, the CCBE was an organisation composed exclusively of the European Bar Councils as well as the Law Societies. Each member had to meet high standards set out in the CCBE Statutes, including in particular the requirement of independence and self-governance as well as having recognized by the state and protected by the law title to the profession along with ethical rules and a disciplinary system. Finally, in September 1999, a designated CCBE rapporteur dr Ruppert Wolff – II Vice-President of CCBE prepared a report which was put forward that our Bar meets all the criteria for membership in the CCBE. Subsequently, during the CCBE Plenary Session in Athens in November 1999, the delegations of members decided to aprove the membership of the National Council in CCBE. It was the success of the efforts undertaken by the Foreign Commission. Since then, a shared delegation of attorneys at law and advocates has represented Polish lawyers in the CCBE. The delegation is routinely headed by a representative of the National Council of our Bar and the Polish Bar Council. In 2004, upon the accession of Poland to the European Union, the Polish Bars became a full member (instead of observer member) of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE).
Parallel to the efforts undertaken by the National Council to join the CCBE and the continuing accession negotiations of Poland to the EU, we succeeded to include the profession of attorneys at law within the provisions of Directive 98/5/EC, which purports to facilitate continuous practice as a lawyer in any member state other than the country in which the qualifications were obtained and within the provisions of Directive 77/249/EEC, which facilitates an effective exercise by lawyers the freedom to provide services in the EU. This was successful in 2003.
As a full member of the CCBE for the last 15 years, we have been determined and persistent in our works to strengthen the position of attorneys at law within this organisation. The National Council actively participates in the CCBE Plenary Sessions as well as Standing Committees, the most important organs of the CCBE. Our representatives are on a regular basis involved in the substantive work of the CCBE committees and working groups. Moreover, attorneys at law have represented the organisation in a series of missions and events abroad, such as expert missions to Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey. Our activities within the CCBE have been crowned in 2011 by election of Mrs. Maria Ślązak, a member of the Gdańsk Bar Association and a Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to the position of Vice-President of the CCBE and finally to the position of President in 2015.
The year 2015 marked a successful organization of the 123 Plenary Session of the CCBE in Gdańsk with the participation of Nobel-Prize winner, former President of Poland Lech Wałęsa as well as lawyers from 45 European countries. In opinions expressed after the event, it was one of the best Plenary Sessions in the CCBE history.
In 1999, the National Council commenced efforts to join the world’s largest organisation of lawyers, the International Bar Association (IBA), which brings together professional associations of lawyers and Bar Councils as well as various law firms and companies from around the world. In 2003, Dianna Kempe, the then President of IBA, visited the National Council, confirming that Polish attorneys at law meet the statutory requirements of the organisation. In the same year, our membership in IBA became a reality, strengthening our relations with the American Bar Association, as well as the lawyers from Asia. Our growing importance within IBA was accentuated again particularly intensely in 2010 when the then President, Akira Kawamura, visited Poland; and again in May 2011 when Warsaw was chosen to host the Conference of Presidents of Bars and Law Societies and a mid-year meeting of IBA.
Of unprecedented importance for the development of our relations with the international legal community and, at the same time, a practical expression of the CCBE and IBA’s support to the legal professions in Poland was a joint mission organised by the two organisations to our country in 2007. The mission took place at a crucial time of a conflict between judges and lawyers on one side, and the Polish government on the other. Its goal was to examine the situation on the ground, meet with the representatives of the Polish authorities, judges, prosecutors as well as both Polish legal professions. As a result of the activities, a comprehensive report about the situation in Poland was produced, which contained a number of recommendations on the strengthening of guarantees for the rule of law in our country.
Then again strong support to Polish lawyers was offered in 2011 on the occasion of a dispute over the draft law on state legal exams. Lawyers from around the world sent an open letter to the authorities of our country, pointing to the fact that effective access to justice demands that citizens are guaranteed the help of professional representatives, who are adequately prepared to practise by having secured independence, highest professional standards and by undertaking continuing legal education.
Finally, even before joining the CCBE, the National Council started its cooperation with the European Company Lawyers Association (ECLA), which it later joined as a member. ECLA brings together organisations of lawyers, whose members may practise also in the form of a contract of employment (the so-called in-house lawyers).
Representation in Brussels
One of the initiatives to strengthen the international character of our undertakings in the global scene was the institution in October 2003 of our representative in Brussels and, four years later, of the Representative Office of the National Council. The office cooperated closely with the CCBE as well as other countries’ representations present in Brussels, supporting the activities of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Regional Bar Associations in their international projects. In November 2013, however, our work formula changed. The Representative Office was closed and our present-day international activities are carried out from Poland, with the National Council being represented worldwide by its delegates attending international events.
The following are the past and present Chairmen of the Foreign Commission and the Foreign Affairs Committee:
- Andrzej Kalwas: 1992-1995
- Maciej Zieliński: 1995-1996
- Marian Kowol: 1996-2003
- Maria Ślązak: 2003-present
Presidency Members supervising foreign activities:
- Maciej Bobrowicz: 2003-2007
- Piotr Bober: 2007-2013
- Maria Ślązak: 2013-present