Being a lawyer in…Tunisia

Mr Khaled Aouainia, criminal lawyer

Aouainia is from Sidi Bouzid, a town 270 km south of Tunis. After obtaining his law degree in 1998, he defended many “victims of power”: trade unionists, the unemployed, students detained in prisons, and Salafists. At the end of 2010, he addressed the crowd gathered outside the government office in Sidi Bouzid, after the immolation of a merchant in the same area. The police intervened with violence to end the rally, an incident that many consider the beginning of the revolution in Tunisia. Aouainia is an attorney at the Court of Cassation and working on his PhD.

What do you think are the main qualities of a good lawyer?

For me, a good lawyer is one who understands what his client is going through. He or she must be well trained, disciplined, and honest because there are corrupt lawyers. Despite this, the population trusts lawyers whose presence limits police violence, notably in Sidi Bouzid, where the revolution began. Nearly half of the hundreds of lawyers in the region were on the side of the people when they protested outside the court in the city. In such circumstances, the lawyer has the role to encourage the defence of social causes.

An active role must be particularly important in Tunisia today, where justice is in full transition?

Absolutely. I would say that the lawyer has the leading role. It is especially true for activist lawyers. They are very close to the victims of injustice, they are familiar with the procedures, and they have extensive experience in advocacy. I would add that judges also have an important role. That’s even though 99% of the 1500 judges in Tunisia were real instruments in the pursuit of the political opposition of the Ben Ali regime.

You mention the “activist lawyer”. What do you mean by that?

I am convinced that what happened in our country was not a revolution but a coup because, really, nothing has changed. There is still so much corruption, for example. It is precisely this type of phenomenon that the activist lawyer must fight. Then he or she must be consistent with the components of civil society. I think it is the unions who need legal advice. Finally, the lawyer should not accept political responsibility. His or her true place is not in the chair of the Minister but in the corridors of the court. He or she is the “eye” who observes the strict application of the law!

How can Tunisian justice succeed in its transition?

By being independent of political power. It must operate in full independence. Just like the lawyer who must go past his or her ideological convictions and defend the victims of injustice, whether they are Leftist, Liberal, or Islamist. Another important aspect is the mentality that still exists in the police force. Despite legal certainty and the change in government, practices like torture persist. There is a sense of impunity. There will be a real change when the police do not consider themselves as guardians of the system but rather of the society.

December 2012


  • Capital: Tunis
  • Official language: Arabic
  • Population: 10.7 million
  • Life expectancy at birth: 75 years
  • GDP per capita (PPP): 7281 USD
  • Mean years of schooling : 6.5
  • Adult literacy rate (ages 15 and above): 77.6
  • Classification HDI*: 0.698 (n° 94 of 187 countries)
  • Government: Republic
  • Lawyers: 8000 (1 for every 1312 inhabitants)
  • Number of Lawyers in the capital: 4000

* HDI = Human Development Index, used to rank countries, composed from three dimensions:  health/long-lived (life expectancy at birth), knowledge and education (adult literacy rate), and standard of living (GDP per capita in PPP).

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