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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

Why is our focus on human rights more important now than ever before?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the protection of human rights and civil liberties has been even more important than ever before.

Brussels based Partner Dorothée Vermeiren and Prague based Counsel Jan Dobrý discuss the firm’s work with global criminal justice watchdog, Fair Trials.

Why is our focus on human rights more important now than ever before?

Dorothée: Businesses can no longer operate in isolation; we have an obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves and to make a positive impact on society. What’s more, we’re increasingly asked about our views on social issues and social justice by clients and potential recruits alike, who are no longer solely interested about the firm’s financial wellbeing.

Jan: I agree – corporate activity and human rights are now more interrelated and indivisible than ever before. A respect for human rights is no longer enough. Organisations have to actively protect human rights. Ultimately, the protection of human rights underpins good business practices and it’s clear that businesses that don’t understand and value this will find themselves in difficult positions.

Access to justice is a critical aspect of human rights. You are both part of the international team working on the firm’s strategic pro bono and community outreach partnership with global criminal justice watchdog, Fair Trials. What do you find significant about this work?

Dorothée: Clifford Chance has worked with Fair Trials on a variety of projects previously and we are currently helping them track how different justice systems across Europe are being affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. The aim of the project is to raise and maintain awareness of the impact of emergency measures on due process within the criminal justice system and to empower Fair Trials’ network of criminal justice advocates across Europe to try to curb unnecessary restrictions.

Jan: The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone. From a personal point of view, I think the pandemic has forced local and national authorities to reconsider the way their justice systems operate and the urgent need for modernisation. In the Czech Republic, for example, it wasn’t necessary for courts to adopt new rules regarding online proceedings. These measures have been in place for many years, but haven’t been tried before. Covid-19 changed that, it forced judges and officials to move to online proceedings and look into the ways the use of technology might actually bring significant benefits. Covid-19 has also forced judges and courts to reconsider how they effectively detain individuals with children and how best to arrange meetings with the detainees.

Dorothée: Governments must take urgent measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 to safeguard public health and provide medical care to those who need it. Inevitably, these measures limit our human and fundamental rights to an extent rarely experienced in peacetime. Initially in Belgium, detainees were often prevented from going to hearings and had their temporary leave suspended in the name of public safety.

What makes Clifford Chance’s teams so well equipped to help Fair Trails on this project?

Dorothée: As the content underpinning Fair Trials’ requests is often challenging and not within our areas of expertise, we have had to research areas of law that criminal lawyers might be more familiar with. That said, Fair Trials comes to us, not because of our expertise in criminal law but, because we can get to the real heart of their requests. Additionally, our global outlook is hugely beneficial as their requests often have a strong policy perspective and they look to us for information and data on broader developments around detainee rights that can be used in other jurisdictions. For example, my colleagues and I have been sourcing practical information from enforcement authorities in Belgium that could help to understand how the efficacy of the policy can be improved in other areas - notably when it comes to the right for detainees to have legal assistance during police interviews.

This initiative sounds very interesting and a big undertaking. Did you get the opportunity to work with colleagues in the same office and other offices who you wouldn’t normally interact with?

Dorothée: Yes, we’ve worked closely a large, cross-border team from across our offices in London, Paris, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Warsaw, Prague, and Brussels who are helping to gather data and information from authorities in their respective jurisdictions for Fair Trials. The more junior colleagues in my office are very committed to the project and it’s been nice working so closely with them on something different and challenging – other than our usual client work.

Jan: As Dorothée said, the Fair Trials project has allowed me to work with a lot of junior colleagues, who I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. They have been really keen to take on more responsibilities and ownership of different parts of the project, which has subsequently helped them acquire and develop new skills.

Why does the work with Fair Trials matter to you?

Jan: While giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves is important and rewarding, working with Fair Trials and other pro bono initiatives is personally very beneficial and has taught me a great deal both personally and professionally. It has also given me the chance to step away from my daily routine and tasks, gain new perspectives and helped me avoid burnout from the high-pressured nature of client work.

Dorothée: I’ve always loved the law and access to justice, and I even remember defending my friends from bullies at school. While I spend most of my time advising companies on all types of litigation, I came into the law with a very ethical mindset and maintain the belief that we should use our privileged positions to give back to society. Fair Trials has definitely given me the opportunity to do so and I’d encourage others to take part if they can.

2020 Responsible Business Report

As we try to build a better, more sustainable future, it is the fundamental principles of the law that guide us, as a responsible business: equality and fairness, access to justice, effective regulation and government, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Our 2020 report demonstrates our commitment to sustainable growth and how it has endured and been strengthened during a period of uncertainty and change.

Explore our report here.