Social & Economic rights

Thursday, 18 February 2021

The first year of implementation shows that the Law on Free Legal Aid hinders equal access to justice for the most vulnerable

On 18 February 2021 in Belgrade, the non-governmental organisations A 11 - Initiative for Economic and Social Rights and Praxis presented reports on the implementation of the Law on Free Legal Aid with respect to the persons at risk of statelessness and internally displaced persons in Serbia. The report of A 11 Initiative focused on the implementation of the Law on Free Legal Aid with respect to internally displaced persons, while Praxis’ report dealt with persons at risk of statelessness. Although in analysing the implementation of the law these two NGOs focus on two different categories of citizens, both reports highlight the major challenges encountered by the most vulnerable population groups in attempting to exercise their right to free legal aid.

The research conducted by Praxis has revealed that only 32% of towns and municipalities established a free legal aid service, and that in 18% of local self-governments no request for free legal aid was submitted, while in 32% of them no more than 10 requests were submitted in one year. Another problematic fact is that in two out of three local self-governments the persons who decide on requests for free legal aid are the ones who provide such aid.

According to Milan Radojev, Praxis Legal Coordinator, an extremely small number of persons at risk of statelessness succeeded in receiving free legal aid in the manner prescribed by the Law. He stressed that these citizens almost never managed to exercise the right to free legal aid on their own, but were granted such aid only with the assistance of Praxis lawyers.

“Persons at risk of statelessness are among the most vulnerable groups in society. The lack of documents prevents them from accessing other basic rights, and these are persons who already live in destitution. These are persons with a low level of education, legally ignorant, and often do not even know what kind of help they need. If they cannot get free legal aid in order to obtain personal documents, they are in a hopeless situation”, states Marijana Luković, Praxis Executive Director.

On the other hand, the research of Initiative A 11 indicates the inaccessibility of the system of free legal aid for the most vulnerable among internally displaced persons. Persons belonging to particularly vulnerable groups, who participated in the research, stated that they were not adequately informed about how they could access free legal aid, that procedures were not accessible and transparent, and that their requests were often rejected orally.

In addition, they noted that a special problem that hindered their access to legal aid was an insufficiently clear form of free legal aid request, which was not adjusted to the needs and level of education of some of the most vulnerable citizens. The presented case studies indicate the illegality of the work of free legal aid services, as well as insufficiently clear procedures and the overall inaccessibility of free legal aid for the most vulnerable.

Having in mind the shortcomings in the application of the Law on Free Legal Aid for the most vulnerable citizens, as well as the fact that the Law practically excludes the associations of citizens specialized in providing free legal aid from the circle of free legal aid providers, during the presentation of the reports, the question was raised of whether it was necessary to amend the Law and sharpen its focus on providing access to justice to citizens most at risk. In addition, campaigns aimed at informing about the rights of citizens in the free legal aid system, as well as training of employees dealing with the provision of free legal aid, are the necessary steps towards the improvement of free legal aid for the most vulnerable.

 

The Praxis report is available: HERE

Read 2003 times
Tagged under
Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action