Three years of implementation of the Law on free legal aid – experience and future challenges

On 1 February 2012 in Zagreb, the conference, within the IPA 2009 Twinning Light project „Improvement of the free legal aid system“ that has been implemented by the Republic of Croatia and Republic of Lithuania, was held.

The Deputy Minister of Justice, Sandra Artuković-Kunšt, emphasised that the number of requests for free legal aid was increased in the last three years. However, CRP Sisak is of an opinion that it is very important to emphasize that there was around 3000 requests in 2010, which is extremely small number for Croatia, because CRP Sisak in 2010 had 3617 requests.

Kristijan Turkalj said that the Law on free legal aid improved since 15 July 2011. He said that 80 percent of the free legal aid cases are secondary legal aid cases that were provided by attorneys.

Anželika Banevičiene, the project manager from Lithuania, presented the Lithuanian system. The primary legal aid is provided in all legal cases and to all applicants, without going into their financial means. The primary legal aid providers prepare clients for secondary legal aid. The system seems to be compact and complete. Yearly, there are about 70000 cases.

Experiences of the Croatian free legal aid beneficiaries showed that it is difficult and long lasting to gain the right to free legal aid.

Professor Alan Uzelac presented the work on the Legal Clinic in Zagreb. He showed that our free legal aid system is completely inefficient and not functioning.

Milana Kreća presented the work of CRP Sisak. She explained the CRP statistics for 2011, which showed that there was a huge need for legal aid and that 98 percent of cases are covered outside the state legal aid system, i.e. by international donors. The reasons for this are in the system itself, as is too bureaucratic and it takes more time than providing of legal aid. Milana Kreća emphasized that the present administration of primary legal aid needed to be simplified and that NGOs need to be financed through projects.

The Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in the RoC, Fulvio Bianconi, pointed out the importance of the free legal aid system and that it is necessary that legal aid is available to all citizens.

It has been obvious that the primary legal aid has been neglected. Therefore, the financing of primary legal aid, as well as documentation needed to be granted primary legal aid, which is too extensive, are questions that need to be adequately solved in order to make the free legal aid system functioning.

As it was noticed that only few NGOs, legal aid providers, were invited to the conference, the NGO Izvor Tenja representative asked the Ministry of Justice representatives on reasons. Jasna Butorac said that it was not on purpose; because the colleagues from Lithuania were sending invitations and that the Ministry did not invite the NGOs that had not returned the unspent money to the State.
Jasna Butorac said that the Ministry would send the conclusions of the conference to the participants.

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