7th July 2020
Inga Bite - Lawyer (Law Office O.Cers & J.Jurkāns)
MSI’s Latvian member Law Office O.Cers & J.Jurkans recently completed a very successful and mutually valuable collaboration project together with the Ministry of Justice of Latvia, researching the existing legal aid system in the country and developing proposals for its further development. The study also looked at access to legal aid and mediation for the most vulnerable groups of society.
The project, which started in March and continued until the end of June, involved a wide scope of research on the existing practice of legal aid administration and mediation in Latvia. It included discussions with judges, legal aid providers and social services, impact assessment, modeling of future situations, calculation of demand and necessary financing, research of foreign practice and development of proposals.
The study concludes that the current criteria and system of state-funded legal aid are only partially able to guarantee access to justice for the target groups. It can be stated that certain persons and even groups of persons who correspond to the target groups of the study do not qualify for the current state-provided legal aid because there are formal obstacles to obtain the required status, or the income exceeds the income level of the poor or low-income person as determined separately by each municipality. The level of income for obtaining the status of a low-income person differs significantly in different municipalities, which results in a different treatment of persons in comparable situations.
Surveys and in-depth interviews conducted within the framework of the study show that the target groups quite often encounters the need to address legal issues, although in many cases the services of a lawyer or mediator cannot be afforded financially. As a result, a significant number of legal issues are not addressed at all or they are addressed in an inappropriate way, which may reduce the level of protection of the target group’s rights and access to justice.
At present, there is no distinct primary legal aid system in Latvia, although it is also possible to receive one consultation within the framework of secondary legal aid. Therefore, the research proposes a way to distinguish from the existing state-funded legal aid system a primary legal aid system in the form of one lawyer’s consultation by telephone, electronically or in person.
The study assesses the need to determine a particular income level or property status, which would provide a basis for receiving legal aid paid for by the state. The study analyzes the possibility of determining a partial co-payment for the received legal aid, evaluating its possible benefits and risks. The idea of co-payment for both legal and mediation services would increase the motivation of individuals to use these services responsibly and effectively.
The study analyzes the availability of mediation services in Latvia, finding that there are currently several problems. The knowledge of the public about mediation and its possibilities is poor, as well as about the advantages of mediation over litigation. Cooperation between certified mediators and judges needs to be improved and good practice guidelines should be developed jointly. Also, in order to promote mediation, various state and local government institutions should be involved (a cooperation and support network should be established), with the Council of Certified Mediators undertaking the co-ordination of co-operation.
As a result of the study, members of the Law Office O.Cers & J.Jurkans team have been invited to monitor the piloting process of the introduction of primary legal aid in Latvia and will continue its collaboration with the Ministry of Justice of Latvia.
Founded in 1997, Law Office Cersjurkāns, is a full service law firm based in Riga.
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