National Roundtable on Quality of Legal Aid

On 23 July at the Hotel Radison Blue a national roundtable on ensuring quality in legal aid for criminal cases was held, organized by the National Association of Advocates of Ukraine; the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union; the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation; the International Renaissance Foundation, with the support of the Justice Ministry and the Legal Aid Coordination Centre.  The roundtable was opened by Inna Yemelyanova, First Deputy Minister of Justice; Lidia Izovitova, Head of the National Association of Advocates of Ukraine; Roman Romanov, Director of the Rule of Law Programme of the International Renaissance Foundation; Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union; and Mykola Sioma, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation.

In her address, the Head of the National Association of Advocates of Ukraine and Head of the Council of Advocates of Ukraine Lidia Izovitova spoke of the effectiveness of cooperation between the National Association of Advocates of Ukraine, the Justice Ministry and the Legal Aid Coordination Centre.  “The advocate community is pleased that state centres have been given the responsibility for organizing free secondary legal aid”.  Lidia Izovitova said that it would not be possible to pass these functions to bodies of advocate self-government for the next few years or even decade.

The Head of the National Association of Advocates of Ukraine noted the work being done by free secondary legal aid centres on professional development for advocates. “In the near future free secondary legal aid centres will produce a new generation of advocates, experienced and profession.  Lidia Izovitova stressed that this symbiosis would undoubtedly reap befences and stressed the successful cooperation between the advocacy and the state in building a system of free legal aid in Ukraine.

During the press briefing attended by Inna Yemelyanova, Lidia Izovitova and Andriy Vyshnevsky there was a discussion about who should approve quality standards for free legal aid. Lidia Izovitova expressed the view that bodies of advocate self-government should do this. Andriy Vyshnevsky reminded them that the law gives those powers to the Justice Ministry. As a compromise, Inna Yemelyanova proposed a procedure for prelimary agreement of standards with the Council of Advocates of Ukraine, with this being adopted through a Justice Ministry order. She said that the Ministry would not impose its standards on advocates and that they needed to be created through joint effort. The First Deputy Justice Minister stressed that “quality standards should be prepared by advocates for advocates, and said that they planned to draw up quality standards for providing free legal aid and implementing them before the end of the year.

The meeting was attended by members of the National Association of Advocates of Ukraine; the Justice Ministry; the International Renaissance Foundation; the  Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union; the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation;, the Legal Aid Coordination Centre; academics in the field of law; foreign specialists; advocate assessors and the advocates who took part in the pilot programme.

During the roundtable, Roger Smith, Head of the Justice NGO in the UK presented approaches for ensuring the quality of legal aid and also gave a report on management of a legal aid system and issues of independence and confidentiality in advocates’ work. Arkady Bushchenko and Nadia Chriptievski, advocate from Moldova, gave the main principles, criteria and pilot experience gained by Moldova and Ukraine in assessing quality and methodological peer review.

The Director of the Coordination Centre Andriy Vyshnevsky gave a presentation on the role of interested parties in the system for ensuring the quality of legal aid guaranteed by the state (the role of the advocacy and role of the State / administrative body).

An important part of the roundtable was the presentation by advocates Tetyana Sivak and Serhiy Zaitsev, and the discussion of the results of the practical phase of the pilot project aimed at monitoring the effectiveness of the system of legal aid in Ukraine which took place from 10 June to 5 July 2013.

During the practical phase three groups of advocate assessors visited 12 regions: the Crimea; the Volyn; Zhytomir; Luhansk; Mykolaiv; Odessa; Poltava; Rivne; Kherson; Khmelnytski; Chernivtsi and Chernihiv oblasts where they studied advocate proceedings (advocates’ files). During interviews, they also learned about individual advocates’ strategies and tactics in criminal proceedings provided from 1 January 2013 by the relevant free secondary legal aid centres.  94 advocates from the above-mentioned regions took part in the assessment, and provided 255 files.

During the discussion Roman Romanov stated that the implementation of standards and quality monitoring of legal aid was an element in the development of the advocacy which raises public confidence in it and in the system of free legal aid.

Arkady Bushchenko stressed that taxpayers have the right to a quality product paid for by public funding.

The aim of the project was to develop forms, methods and tools for assessing the quality of legal aid provided by advocates in criminal cases through a process of comprehensive monitoring of the legal aid system; creating the conditions for preparing standards for the work of advocates in providing secondary legal aid in the criminal process (qualtiy standards for providing secondary legal aid; drawing up criteria for assessment of legal aid; identifying failings in work; drawing up recommendations on improving the practice of providing free secondary legal aid, as well as recommendations on improving the legal aid system.

By taking part in such a project, the advocate community had the opportunity to significantly enhance its role in ensuring the proper quality of legal aid provided by public funding in accordance with the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and have impact on the formation of state policy in this sphere.

The event was held with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation and the Embassy of the Netherlands. 

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