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By Ian McDougall
With my involvement in advancing the Rule of Law, it amazes me how many amazing people exist in the world who are dedicated to making it a better place. They do it, very often, without any kind of widespread recognition. They do it in the most difficult of circumstances; oftentimes at great risk to themselves. They take the knocks and setbacks that come their way. I don’t just mean someone being rude to them. I mean physical assaults, imprisonment and worse. Yet, there they remain, working often with little reward for the benefit of us all.
They have a core belief system that, somehow, has put them in a different place than most of us inhabit. That belief system has led them to a place where they are willing to sacrifice their own prosperity, comfort and even personal safety because of a passionate drive to “do what’s right”. Every second they spend on this earth they are making it a better place to be for all of us.
That’s the world we live in. It has many things in it we don’t like, wars, oppression, bad actors of all kinds. But we should also remember those people who are the other side of that equation.
One of the things that we try to do at LexisNexis is shine a light on those who are doing this work. We work to bring them some recognition and let them know that there are people in this world who appreciate what they do — that their work does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Twelve years ago (I can hardly believe it!), LexisNexis worked with the Founder of the International Bar Association’s Young Lawyer committee, Carmen Pombo, to create the IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award. It was fairly pioneering at the time, and we deeply appreciated that Carmen Pombo understood the concept immediately and got the IBA committee to endorse the proposal. It has proved successful beyond our wildest dreams – and hers!
The award honors a young lawyer for achievements in their career and for their commitment to the larger community. The award was created in recognition of William Reece Jr, a former IBA President who was distinguished as one of the finest and most respected legal experts and an outstanding public servant.
At this year’s Young Lawyer Award ceremony, we quoted Nelson Mandela’s remarks, which seemed completely appropriate: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You be that generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
This year’s Young Lawyer of the Year Award went to Turkish lawyer Elif Goksen. Through her work, Ms. Goksen improves access to justice and acts as a voice for individuals who have been mistreated, marginalised or excluded. In 2014, Ms. Goksen wrote a thesis on the value of digital data in criminal procedural law, during a time when there were many criminal cases in Turkey that relied on unverified electronic evidence. It was among the first written pieces on digital evidence in Turkish Criminal Procedure Law.
In January 2014, Ms. Goksen was recruited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to work as a Refugee Status Determination Assistant and then a year later as an Associate. She was assigned complex files and delivered training sessions on refugee status determination.
Since October 2018, Ms. Goksen has been undertaking an academic research project into the intersection of proportionality and individual criminal responsibility in refugee exclusion.
Ms. Goksen has been the recipient of several prestigious scholarships, including the Chevening Scholarship for the Master of Laws Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science (2012), and the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program at Columbia University Law School in New York (2018). This month, she begins a placement at the International Criminal Court as a Visiting Professional in the Prosecution Division.
Yes, folks, we are talking about a lawyer still in the first flush of a legal career. This is why we shine a light on such people!
Cecil Rajendra is a Malaysian lawyer with a passion for poetry and human rights. He received the IBA Pro Bono Award for 2019, which honours lawyers who have shown an outstanding commitment to pro bono work throughout their legal career. Mr. Rajendra has been described as ‘the founding father of legal aid’ in Malaysia and a staunch advocate of human rights who has worked to improve access to justice for all throughout his career.
In 1980, with only a small wooden shack at his disposal, Mr. Rajendra and his associates set up the first rural legal aid clinic in Malaysia. During his tenure at the Malaysian Bar Council in the 1980s, Mr. Rajendra initiated several key campaigns including ‘Save the Judiciary’ as well as the ‘No Detention Without Trial’ movement, which called for the abolition of the Internal Security Act and other legislation that allowed this practice to occur.
He was also the driving force behind the Bar Council’s ‘Festival of Rights’ to commemorate Human Rights Day (10 December). In 2000, he launched the country’s first Mobile Legal Aid Clinic (MOBLAC), parking in popular night markets across Penang to encourage local people to engage with the legal system and understand their rights.
In addition to his incredible contribution to the pro bono sector, Mr. Rajendra is the author of 25 books, with his poems published in more than 50 countries. His work has appeared in several prestigious publications, including The Guardian, National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal.
Declared a ‘Living Heritage Treasure’ by the Penang Heritage Trust in 2015, Mr. Rajendra subsequently received the Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his pioneering legal aid work and tireless commitment to human rights.
Finally, the 2019 Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights was awarded to joint recipients Martin Lee SC JP and Dr. Margaret Ng. Both demonstrated tireless dedication to the protection of human rights and the pursuit of justice. The award is conferred on a legal practitioner who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of any group of people, particularly with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the Rule of Law. This was the first time since the introduction of the award in 1995 that it has been bestowed jointly.
In a joint statement, Mr. Lee and Dr. Ng said: ‘We do not believe that this award is conferred on us because of our own achievements. We accept this award on behalf of all members of the Hong Kong Bar who have also been doing their absolute best in upholding the rule of law in the very trying circumstances in Hong Kong.’
Mr. Lee, who is often referred to as Hong Kong’s ‘father of democracy’, has devoted his life to the advancement of human rights in his native Hong Kong. Called to the Hong Kong Bar in 1966, he was subsequently appointed Queen’s Counsel and later became the Founding Chairman of the United Democrats of Hong Kong.
Dr. Ng has also dedicated much of her career to the protection of human rights and freedom of speech in Hong Kong. Called to the Hong Kong Bar in 1988, the barrister and journalist was one of the founding members of the Basic Law Article 23 Concern Group. Article 23 called for the prohibition of perceived acts of treason against the Central People’s Government, the chief administrative authority of the People’s Republic of China.
So, in this post, I hope to shine a light on the people around the world who are putting themselves at risk to accomplish amazing things. Right now, someone is doing something to make the world a better place. Even though we can’t shine a light on everyone, it is my hope that recognizing a small number helps us remember all of them. Thank you to these amazing people!
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. The purpose of life is to be of service to others. When you give, you’re fulfilling your highest duty in this life and it will bring you the utmost fulfillment.”
These individuals, and too many others to count, live by those words every day and we thank you for all that you do.
Ian McDougall is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the LexisNexis, Legal & Professional division of RELX Group. Mr. McDougall is also President of the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation.. This blog was originally published on High Performance Counsel.