Free legal aid system needs to protect the person not to service the state – lawyers


Kyiv, April 13, 2016. Lawyers demand guarantees for their professional rights as well as immediate reforms in the free legal aid system in Ukraine. To achieve this respective legislation needs to be changed as soon as possible. It needs to be harmonized with international standards so that it actually protects human rights instead of servicing the interests of the state. “Today the state has distorted perception of who the client is. The state is not the client. As an institution that has the right to enforce laws, it needs to ensure the right to protection from such enforcement by providing free legal aid, not more. What we now have is a totalitarian system that is fully controlled by the Ministry of Justice, it excludes independent representation of [people’s interests] and creates a large number of risks for it,” said Valentyn Gvozdiy, Deputy Head of the National Bar Association of Ukraine at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

He said the system is currently using considerable amount of money while only a small part of it is actually spent on the legal aid itself. Meanwhile countries with developed legal culture are spending 10-20 percent to maintain the system, in Ukraine it is 60 percent that leaves only 40 percent of financing for the provision of legal aid itself. Gvozdiy also emphasized that the person has a constitutional right to choose any lawyer, at the same time according to the current legislation the state appoints the lawyer forcefully so that the person has no chance to refuse the lawyer’s services. The person whose interests are protected in court has actually no say in it.

According to Gvozdiy, the daunting problem is violation of the advocates’ rights including such basic human rights as the right to life and health. “Over the first quarter of the year three lawyers were killed, three were physically attacked, eight were questioned about their clients’ cases. Criminal probes were started against some of them, their property was destroyed,” said the Deputy Head of the Ukrainian National Bar Association. The examples he made include the murder of the lawyer Hrabovskiy and politically motivated persecution of former Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko. According to Ivan Hrechkivsky, Head of the International Relations Committee of the Ukrainian National Bar Association, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe sent an appeal to the President, Prime Minister and acting Prosecutor General calling to investigate the murder cases of lawyers and to provide explanation as to all violations of lawyers’ rights in Ukraine. “We will keep informing the international community about undemocratic actions undertaken by our law enforcement agencies that are often the ones that violate the lawyers’ rights,” said Hrechkivsky.

According to Gvozdiy the origin of all problems apart from imperfect legislation is also in the subjects that are applying it. He said they had managed to start a fruitful dialogue with the management of the Office of the Prosecutor General, at the same time interaction with the National Police is not very smooth. “We realize that reforms are ongoing, but we cannot stand aside violations of the rights of citizens and of lawyers while these reforms are being conducted,” he emphasized. According to Gvozdiy the law “On the Bar Association and Advocate’s Activity” needs to be immediately amended. He pointed at three key aspects: improved control for access to the profession, guarantees for advocate’s activity and status for bodies of lawyer’s self-governance. “We call upon the Administration of the President of Ukraine to introduce respective draft law that they have finalized to the Parliament, and upon the Parliament to adopt the document in a prompt way,” said Gvozdiy.

Ukrainian National Bar Association is a non-governmental organization of advocate’s self-governance. It was founded on November 17, 2012. Since late 2015 it has been a full-fledged member of the International Bar Association. It is expected that the Ukrainian National Bar Association will get a steering role within the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe this year.