Irma van den Berg ‘Most socially committed lawyer’

University of Amsterdam

Irma van den Berg of the Lawyers for Lawyers foundation has been named the ‘Most socially involved lawyer’ in the Netherlands this year by SDU publishers. In the nineties she graduated from the Amsterdam Law School, now her foundation is housed in the Amsterdam Law Hub. ‘It is poignant how some countries deal with lawyers.’

Irma van den Berg

‘Lawyer died after 238 days of hunger strike’. Last August the newspapers headlines about lawyer Ebru Timtik from Turkey, who died in prison after a hunger strike of eight months. Timtik was sentenced to a long prison term last year after an unfair trial. The reason: she, and 17 colleagues from the same law firm who have also been convicted, are assisting clients suspected of terrorism. Timtik was on hunger strike to enforce a fair trial for herself, her colleagues, and for all citizens in Turkey.

‘This Ebru case is a poignant example of how some countries treat lawyers,’ says Irma van den Berg. That is why she has been on the board of Lawyers for Lawyers voluntarily since 2009, in addition to her work as a lawyer at Six Advocaten. This foundation supports lawyers worldwide who are threatened in their professional practice.

A colleague nominated her for a ‘Gouden Zandloper‘ from publisher SDU in the category ‘Most socially involved lawyer. It is a recognition of more than ten years of intensive involvement in Lawyers for Lawyers.

Congratulations on the appointment!

‘Thank you. I have been on the board of the foundation since 2009, at the moment I am chairman. I am also a member of the focus groups Turkey and Africa. Due to the corona crisis it is difficult to travel at the moment, but normally I attend hearings in Turkey in cases where lawyers are being prosecuted because of their work. I also give training courses and lectures.’

Why do you find this work important?

‘Lawyers play a crucial role in the legal protection of citizens. In Turkey, for example, some lawyers are hampered in their work because they assist alleged terrorists. This also compromises the right to a fair trial. I think it is enormously important for the proper functioning of the rule of law that lawyers, but also journalists, for example, can work freely and independently.’

I think it is enormously important for the proper functioning of the rule of law that lawyers, but also journalists, should be able to work freely and independently
Irma van den Berg

How will the work continue during the corona crisis?

‘Even though we cannot travel at the moment, we can let it be known that ‘the world’ is watching. We have followed the case of Embru Timtik intensively, there have been press conferences via Zoom with journalists and lawyers from all over the world. It is precisely online that we appear to be able to involve many people. Unfortunately, it was too late for Timtik, but a colleague was released a week later and is now in hospital to recover from the hunger strike. We hope that he, and his sixteen colleagues, will be acquitted. We have been in close contact with them for many years.’

Lawyers for lawyers is in the Amsterdam Law Hub. How is the faculty involved?

‘We have a close relationship with the Amsterdam Law School and with legal education. We have trainees working for us, and we are actively involved in the Fair Trials Clinic. Last year, I myself taught about process observation in Turkey. The academic world is a fun and inspiring environment to work in, many students are very motivated.’

Will you stay active at Lawyers for lawyers for a long time?

‘If it’s up to me, maybe not as a board member, but certainly as a volunteer. Despite the fierce things we go through, the work remains incredibly fun and valuable. Meeting lawyers from other countries broadens your view of the world. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to contribute to a free legal profession.’

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