Kyiv, July 8, 2015. “Free legal aid is a large-scale governmental social project implemented through a client-oriented approach, as a project of a state agency with a new face,” intimated Andriy Vyshnevsky, Director of the Coordination Center for Legal Aid Provision, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. The launch of the centers for free legal aid provision all across Ukraine is an example of institutional change that is taking place in the country and is aimed at reforming social relations. “The work of these centers is very important to the implementation of all other reforms that require a higher engagement of people in their interaction with the state,” noted Taras Kachka, Head of the Ukraine Reforms Communications Taskforce project.
The creation of a free legal aid system is one of Ukraine’s obligations as a member-state of the Council of Europe. The right to get free legal aid is cost-free in cases provided by the law and stipulated by the Constitution of Ukraine. However, it did not translate into practice, as the state was not able to create the proper mechanisms for the right’s implementation.
“It’s only now that the system is institutionalized. As of July 1st, the large-scale launch of the governmental social project began. A network of 100 local centers for secondary legal aid provision was formed. As a result, the interests of socially unprotected categories of citizens can be represented in the courts, in both civil and administrative judicial disputes,” said Andriy Vyshnevsky.
The above categories include citizens whose monthly income is lower than the guaranteed minimum income (GMI), people with disabilities whose monthly social payments are lower than two GMIs, combat veterans including ATO participants, family members of fallen servicemen, orphans and children deprived of parental care, etc.
“We do not start talking to our clients from the point of view of formal criteria, to define if he or she belongs to the categories subject to free secondary legal aid provision. We instead start by figuring out what the problem is that brought him or her to the center, and how we can be helpful,” said Vyshnevsky.
According to Andriy Vyshnevsky, not all clients need to have their interests represented in court. It often happens that what is needed is a professional legal consultation. Сenters will develop active ties with non-governmental organizations, local trade unions and lawyers’ unions to create a wide partnership network of free legal aid providers. It will allows citizens who do not fall into the category of the centers’ clients to be sent to specialized organizations that will be able to help everyone to provide him / her with legal aid.
A flexible system with independent lawyers guarantees aid quality. “The state embodied by each particular center orders services from independent lawyers who according to the draft law of Ukraine, ‘On the Bar and Practice of Law,’ have equal status. The state does not interfere in their legal position and activities. Each lawyer participates voluntarily by taking part in the contest. Moreover, the conditions and working schedule are flexible for each lawyer. He/she is able to define the amount and area of work,” noted Andriy Vyshnevsky. It thus guarantees compliance with the key two principles: independence of free legal aid providers and their competition for access to the state order for aid provision. For clients, free means free of charge. Lawyers’ services are being paid for by the state according to the quality and amount of aid rendered in each particular case.
“Compared to 2014, the system financed from the state budget grew by five and a half times and reached UAH 269,5 million. It is an unprecedented amount for a state program,” noted Vyshnevsky. The state pays for lawyers’ services, invests in information technologies development, procures permanent assets needed for the centers’ operations, namely communication and IT equipment, rent and maintenance of premises and staff salaries. Twenty percent of this year’s system budget is on projects of international technical assistance. “We are supported by the governments of Canada, the U.S., Denmark, the Office of the Council of Europe in Ukraine and by other donors who direct their financial resources to train lawyers and personnel, as well as to hold informational campaigns and inform people about free legal aid system,” explained Andriy Vyshnevsky.
To address the centers for free secondary legal aid provision, call the unified 24/7 hotline for free legal aid in Ukraine at 0 800 213 103.
The centers’ contact details are posted on the web site of the Coordination Center in the section ’local centers for free secondary legal aid provision.’ In cities where the population exceeds a million, two to four centers have been set up. Each region has three to nine centers depending on the population and transport infrastructure. “In the future, the network of centers can be widened in response to the needs of the people in the regions and under further support by the government,” summed up the Vyshnevsky.