The legal system
The legal system in Belarus is based on the Roman-Germanic civil law system and the basic source of law in Belarus is:
- Constitution (supreme law of the country);
- Decrees and Edicts of the President;
- Laws of the Parliament;
- Decisions of Government.
The legal profession
The legal profession in Belarus is divided into advocates and legal advisers.
Advocates can provide any kind of legal assistance including representation in any court to any physical or legal person on any legal matters. Advocates’ activity is regulated by the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Advocacy and Advocates’ Activity” (Law on Advocacy) which came into force on 6 April 2013.
The Law on Advocacy does not cover legal assistance provided by employees of a company, as well as employees of state bodies who can represent interest in court only on cases related to the employing company / state body.
To become an advocate, one must be a citizen of the Republic of Belarus, have a Master’s degree in Law, have completed the training required by law and passed the qualification examination, be a member of a regional bar association and have received the necessary licence from the Ministry of Justice.
Legal advisers can provide legal advice on issues related to the establishment, operation and closure of corporations and on issues related to business activities of physical persons including the provision of advice and preparations and examination of documents.
In order to become a legal adviser, one must have been granted a licence by the Ministry of Justice. Licence applications must include: a) the completed application form; b) employment record book showing required minimum of 3 years of experience in the legal profession after obtaining a higher legal education; c) a receipt confirming the payment of the state fee; d) questionnaire. Individuals with criminal convictions for premeditated crime may not be admitted to the profession.
Following the 2012 reforms, legal advisers cannot represent client’s interests in court. The Law on Advocacy provided transition period (till 6 April 2013) for legal advisers with at least five years’ experience who could apply to become advocates under the simplified procedure (without the training and the qualification examination). As for legal advisers with less than five years’ experience, they could apply to become advocates under the general procedure, but with a simplified bar examination.
There are approximately 2,000 advocates and 600 legal advisers in Belarus.
The regulation of the legal sector
The law regulating the legal sector is the Law on Advocacy.
Both advocates and legal advisers are licensed and regulated by the Ministry of Justice. The Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus “On Licensing of Certain Types of Activities” dated 1 September 2010 establishes licensing procedure. The Ministry of Justice designs the content of qualifying examinations and appoints the Advocates Qualification Commission (AQC), chaired by the Deputy Minister of Justice.
The Belarusian National Bar Association is a self-governing body and unites the Minsk City Bar and the other six regional bar associations. Following the Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus dated 3 May 1997 advocates in Belarus must be a member of one of these seven bar associations.
The seven regional bar associations monitor compliance with the law, ethical standards and discipline by the bar members. Advocates are also subject to tight regulation on fees as clients pay for legal services through the Legal Consultation Offices of the regional bar associations.
Foreign lawyers and law firms
Foreign lawyers cannot provide legal services on the territory of Belarus without establishment of legal entity.
Any legal services including consultations can be provided through law firms. Representative offices are not allowed to perform commercial activity so foreign companies must set up new legal entities in Belarus which requires registration with the Unified State Register of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs.
There are no restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm. A domestic lawyer can be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm, a domestic lawyer can enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer, and a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm can employ a foreign lawyer (but after obtaining the special working permits for each foreign employee, except for citizens of Russia and Kazakhstan).
There are a number of foreign firms with offices in Belarus including Russian, German, Austrian, Baltic and Scandinavian firms.
Belarus applied for membership of the WTO in 1993. Its accession process is ongoing.
Today Belarus has only one bilateral agreement related to legal services which is with Lithuania - it provides foreign advocates with the same rights as Belarusian advocates have.
Belarus is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Common Economic Space agreement with the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. Upon entry into force of the agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (includes Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan) Belarusian advocates can provide legal assistance within Russia and Kazakhstan but only on private international law, international public law and the law of the country in which jurisdiction the personnel of the services supplier is qualified.