The end of September 2023 not only marked the close of the month but also heralded the replacement of Macedonia’s previous Law on Advocacy with a new substantially amended law. The new law, which entered into force on 3 October 2023, introduced significant amendments designed to elevate the level of practice of law in Macedonia.
One of the significant amendments that have been incorporated into the new law pertains to the establishment of an Education Centre for Attorneys by the Macedonian Bar Association. This Centre will serve as the primary provider of mandatory continuing legal education for all attorneys in Macedonia. This move is aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills of legal practitioners to enable them to provide better legal services to their clients while adhering to the legal and ethical standards set by the Macedonian Bar Association. The Education Centre for Attorneys will play a crucial role in ensuring the continued professional development of legal practitioners in Macedonia by offering a range of courses, workshops, and seminars that are designed to provide the latest updates on legal practices and procedures, as well as to enhance the overall competence and proficiency of the attorneys. Apart from this significant amendment, the introduction of new eligibility requirements for aspiring attorneys, an enhanced right of attorneys to obtain information and documents from state authorities for the purposes of providing legal advice and opportunities for legal professionals to serve as state officials, collectively constitutes a leap forward in the legal landscape of North Macedonia.
The new law mandates that state authorities, local self-government units, entities endowed with public powers, and individuals must, within eight days of receiving a request from an attorney, provide the necessary data and documents to facilitate the provision of legal advice pertinent to a case. This marks a departure from the previous law, under which these entities could lawfully withhold information deemed confidential. Furthermore, attorneys are now empowered to initiate misdemeanor proceedings against state authorities, state-affiliated entities, officials, or any other legal or natural persons, which have not complied with the request to provide data or documents. For non-compliance with these provisions, state authorities, state-affiliated entities, or any other legal entities may face fines ranging from €2,500 to €5,000, responsible individuals at the state authorities, state-affiliated entities, or any other legal entities may incur fines of €250 to €500, and natural persons might be penalized with fines between €150 and €350.
In terms of eligibility for candidate attorneys, the law introduces two novel requirements. Firstly, individuals who have previously held positions as judges, public prosecutors, state attorneys or deputies, ombudsmen or deputies, elected or appointed officials, notaries, or enforcement agents are barred from becoming attorneys if they have been found responsible for misconduct in service through a final decision in any judicial, disciplinary, or other proceedings. This prohibition lasts for five years following the final decision. Secondly, candidate attorneys are now obliged to complete initial training at the newly inaugurated Education Centre for Attorneys of the Macedonian Bar Association, which will serve as the sole venue for mandatory and continuous education, training, seminars, and workshops for all attorneys.
Under the new law, attorneys are now permitted to hold public offices or serve as elected or appointed officials, which is a significant departure from the previous law that limited attorneys to their professional practice. This change in legislation opens up new opportunities for attorneys to use their legal expertise and skills in public service and governance, thereby contributing to the betterment of society. With this development, attorneys can now aspire to take on leadership roles and responsibilities outside of the traditional legal domain and make a meaningful impact on the community they serve.
The new law imposes stricter penalties on attorneys found guilty of immoral or irresponsible behavior. The previous law mandated a temporary cessation of legal activities for a period of one year, however, the new law now extends this penalty to up to three years. This means that any legal practitioner who is found guilty of such behavior will have to bear the consequences of their actions for a longer period of time, highlighting the importance of upholding ethical standards and responsible conduct in the legal profession.
In light of the above amendments, the new Law on Advocacy has substantially redefined the role and responsibilities of attorneys in Macedonia, providing a robust written framework. With over four thousand members comprising attorneys, associates, and trainees, the Macedonian Bar Association has successfully navigated through negotiations with political stakeholders to arrive at this enhanced legal instrument. The practical efficacy of these changes remains to be seen over time, but as it stands, the legislation promises a stronger, more accountable practice of advocacy in the nation.
By Gjorgji Georgievski, Partner, and Boban Velickovic, Associate, ODI Law