On 30 March 2022, CRP Sisak organized a round table on free legal aid in Croatia, through Zoom platform, and the present were:
- Milana Kreća, CRP Sisak
- Anita Košar Ulemek, CRP Sisak
- Josipa Kovačević, CRP Sisak
- Danijela Žmukić, CRP Sisak
- Ivona Perković, CRP Sisak
- Ivana Canjuga, No borders
- Pål Nesse, NRC (NOAS)
- Jasminka Bertović, Ministry of Justice and Administration
- Dragana Knezić, RCT
- Juraj Brozović, Legal Clinic
- Senka Filipović, Center for Women
- Larisa Čavić, Center for Women
- Alan Uzelac, Legal Clinic, Law Faculty Zagreb
- Milena Čalić-Jelić, Serbian National Council
- Pavica Grgurinčić, Police department Sisak-Moslavina
- Lea Oršuš, KALI SARA
- Nemanja Relić, Office of the vice president of the Croatian government
- Alen Lučić, Croatian Law Center
- Cvijeta Senta, Center for Peace Studies
- Daša Poredoš Lavor, GIMGS
- Tea Friedrich, City of Zagreb
- Irena Held, Police Department Brod-Posavina
- Tatjana Vlašić, Ombudsman office
- Silvija Bionda Vuković, Sisak-Moslavina County
- Mirela Buturović, Ombudsman office
- Sanja Salkić, Ombudsman office
- Nataša Kovačević, Information Legal Centre (IPC)
- Mirjana M. Mišanović, Women association Vukovar
- Marko Mušković, NGO Terra
- Lucija Lučan, NGO B.a.b.e.
- Nataša Jurkić, NGO Mobbing
- Kristina Ostović, NGO Mobbing
- Angela Petrušić, NGO Mobbing
- Ljiljana-Marija Šumić, NGO Mobbing
- Maja Vrbanić, NGO Mobbing
- Nikolina Zec, NGO Izvor Tenja
- Suzana Blanuša, NGO Mobbing
- Tatjana Vukobratović, Central State Office for Reconstruction and Housing Care
- Marija Šarić – NGO mobbing
- Tea Dabić, Human Rights House
- Vanja Marković, Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights Osijek
- Paula Raužan, Local Democracy Agency Sisak
- Aldin Dugonjić, Chief Executive Officer at Center for Halal Quality Certification
Ad.1. Presentation of the work of CRP within the free legal aid (FLA) system
Ad.2. Primary free legal aid system from the position of provider and Ministry of Justice and Administration
Ad.2. Unavailability of social services in Croatia with an emphasis on FLA
Ad.3. Importance of FLA to foreigners and stateless persons
Ad.4. Discussion-questions and conclusions
Ad.1. The moderator of the round table Danijela Žmukić greeted the participants and pointed out that the aim of the round table was to discuss the challenges and problems in providing free legal aid from the perspective of authorized primary legal aid providers and the Ministry of Justice and Administration, participants from associations, regional and local self-government, academia and state administration and provide an overview of challenges and problems in providing free legal aid, with emphasis on foreigners and stateless persons or at risk of losing citizenship.
Then D. Žmukić gave the floor to the President of CRP Sisak, Milana Kreća, who briefly presented our work within the FLA system with reference to foreigners and stateless or at risk in the Republic of Croatia. Milana Kreća briefly pointed out that CRP Sisak has over 27,000 registered clients in the database to date, emphasizing that primary legal aid is of a preventive nature and is very important in reducing the number of court and other unnecessary proceedings that burden Croatia. She emphasized the fact that CRP Sisak operates in one of the poorest and most isolated areas in the Republic of Croatia, which prevents users from accessing the entire system, including free legal aid, and that CRP Sisak is the only registered provider of primary legal aid in Sisak-Moslavina County.
Then M. Kreća pointed out that free legal aid is financed from the state budget and through project financing, that financial resources through the FLA system are absolutely insufficient and result in uncertainty about the continuity of the association and question the responsibility to users. She presented an overview of the work of CRP Sisak and financing through the FLA system and outside the system.
After that, Paal Nesse, a representative of the NRC, gave a brief introduction to the history of providing FLA in the Republic of Croatia, i.e. gave a brief overview of the development of the FLA system in Croatia. Paal Nesse stressed that the office was established in Sisak in 1998 by the Norwegian Refugee Council and that it operated until 2004 when the CRP began to operate independently. CRP Sisak continued where the NRC left off, using the same database and operating system. He emphasized the need for free legal aid in the Republic of Croatia, as it exists elsewhere in the world. He expressed satisfaction that CRP Sisak continues to work and said that the need of citizens still exists and that he hopes that the authorities in the Republic of Croatia will accept the arguments of CRP and work on improving the FLA system in Croatia. Paal Nesse and CRP continue to collaborate through project partnerships, collaboration, exchange of experiences, etc.
Ad.2. In the continuation of his work, the round table referred to the FLA system, and from the position of the FLA provider, prof. Alan Uzelac, Faculty of Law in Zagreb, who is a very important stakeholder in the establishment and improvement of the system in the Republic of Croatia and a member of the CRP Advisory Board. The professor pointed out that in addition to the main difficulties faced by FLA providers, new circumstances are emerging, such as the 2020 earthquake, which affected certain parts of the Republic of Croatia, the war in Ukraine, which resulted in an increased number of refugees and the deteriorating economic situation, which circumstances lead to an increased need for FLA. Through his presentation prof., Alan Uzelac spoke about the development of a system of free legal advice and information through three phases. He also talked about the current challenges in the primary legal aid system and pointed out the main problems of the legal aid system in relation to preventive action / primary FLA /: generosity, rationality and continuity.
This was followed by a review of the FLA from the position of the Ministry of Justice and Administration, and Jasminka Bertović, Head of the Free Legal Aid System Department, spoke about the legal framework, mechanisms for financing services and their limitations.
Ad.3. Dragana Knezić from the Rehabilitation Center for Stress and Trauma (RCT) spoke about the unavailability of social services in Croatia, with an emphasis on FLA. She presented the results and conclusions of the first national survey on the availability of social services, including FLA. In relation to the same, she pointed out that the institution of the Ombudsman advocated by participating in the discussion on the National Plan for the Development of Social Services in the Republic of Croatia for the period from 2021-2014. According to the results of this research, conducted on a sample of 395 local governments from all Croatian counties, in 60% of them, free legal aid services are available, and the needs exceed the capacity, which is especially pronounced in cases of access to the service for the elderly.
Ad.4. Ivana Canjuga, a lawyer with the association “Without Borders”, spoke about the importance of free legal aid for foreigners and stateless persons. She presented the system of providing free legal aid to foreigners and asylum seekers and pointed out the fact that a large number of them are not aware of their right to free legal aid in representation before the Administrative Court.
After that, Lea Oršoš from the Roma Association Kali Sara pointed out the challenges faced by members of the Roma national minority, who do not have regulated citizenship and general status in the Republic of Croatia, and praised and supported the holding and work of the round table and cooperation with CRP Sisak.
Tatjana Vlašić, Deputy Ombudsman, spoke about the difficulties citizens face in accessing and using free legal aid. She stated that in addition to the existing problems that are constantly warned about and recommendations are made in their annual reports, which were recently pointed out in the report for the Republic of Croatia by the Advisory Committee for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, there is a lack of information on services provided by public bodies to citizens. She pointed out the complexity of frequent changes in relevant regulations and added that they therefore advocated strengthening activities aimed at raising public awareness and informing citizens about how to obtain free legal aid.
Afterwards, Juraj Brozović, Assistant Head of the Law Faculty Legal Clinic in Zagreb, spoke about the shortcomings and needs in improving the free legal aid system and reminded of the recommendations presented by the associations and authorized providers to the Ministry of Justice for many years: extension of the project period – multi-annual financing; the obligation to finance by units of local and regional self-government and the active work of the Legal Aid Commission, which according to the Law has an important advisory and supervisory role, and whose role has been completely neglected in recent years.
Finally, a typical example from our practice on the stateless girl Medina Dibrani is briefly presented, which clearly demonstrates the longevity and complexity of primary legal aid, to which the system is not adapted.
We conclude the roundtable with the conclusion that free legal aid is an important instrument in achieving access to justice, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable groups in society. Difficult access to free legal aid in the Republic of Croatia, which we have all been warning about for many years, and the Ombudsman has been giving recommendations about, actually arose as a result of insufficient funding, which is not perennial and which ultimately complicates the work of free legal aid providers and beneficiaries’ access to legal aid.
In Sisak, March 30, 2022
Minutes taken by: