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Study reveals 'legal corruption'

Lawyers in many countries believe corruption has tainted their profession, with more than one in five saying they had been asked to take part in possibly shady transactions, a worldwide survey said.

The London-based International Bar Association said nearly half of the 642 lawyers in 95 countries it surveyed earlier this year said corruption affected lawyers in their countries - including all of the respondents surveyed in Pakistan, China and Guatemala.

The results of the survey will be launched at the association's annual conference in Vancouver, Canada,.

Results varied according to region. In Australia and New Zealand, only 16% of lawyers thought corruption was an issue, compared to more than 70% in Africa, Latin America and eastern Europe, the association said.

One in three of all lawyers surveyed said they had lost business to corrupt law firms or individuals, it said.

The report noted that the results of the June 15-July 5 survey were not representative of the countries covered, due to the small sample size. In Pakistan and Guatemala, one to five lawyers responded to the online survey, while in China, six to 10 did.

Ramon Cadena, the International Commission of Jurists' Guatemala staff director, said corruption in the legal profession tended to be common in countries like Guatemala where organised crime and drug trafficking had a strong presence. "These networks rely on obstruction of justice, corruption and violence to achieve their objectives," he said. He said big companies also practised corruption, citing the use of lawyers to obtain licences for mines in areas where such activities would normally be banned.

Mr Cadena said judges, magistrates and even justices on the supreme court or constitutional court often kept their links to law firms. "In many cases, they even rule on cases that are handled by lawyers in the law firms in which they are senior partners," he said.

In China, a prominent human rights lawyer said lawyers sometimes found that they had to bribe the police, state prosecutors or judges. He blamed it on a lack of independent checks in the country's judicial system. "Corruption in the legal profession exists in democratic countries, but it happens on a smaller scale than in China, because in China there are no opposition parties and the media are controlled by the government," said Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing-based lawyer who was not involved in the survey.

The survey by the global lawyers' group also found that 40% of respondents had never heard of international anti-corruption treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

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