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Accessibility of State Guaranteed Legal Aid

2011 / 12 / 21

In December 2011, HRMI published a report on the Accessibility of State Guaranteed Legal Aid. The report was a result of a comprehensive research conducted over two years period, which included a number of sociological surveys, analysis of legal framework, online content analysis, situation testing and evaluation of information gathered through freedom of information requests and telephone interviews conducted with institutions and agencies.

Legal aid in Lithuania is provided by five regional State Guaranteed Legal Aid Offices and 60 municipalities; representation in court is also provided by attorneys who are contracted by the legal aid offices. Lithuanian laws guarantee to every person under the Lithuanian jurisdiction the right to receive free legal advice or the so called “primary legal aid”; they also guarantee free legal representation or “secondary legal aid” to persons with low income level.

The report concluded that the state guaranteed legal aid is not accessible to every eligible person. A major problem remains poor dissemination of information – a considerably large part of the population is unaware of the possibility to receive free legal advice and representation in court. Other difficulties in accessing state guaranteed legal aid are related to authorities’ failure to ensure the accessibility of services to vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, also persons who do not speak Lithuanian language. The report noted complex and beaurocratic application procedures when requesting for either primary or secondary legal aid. Very often the applicants have to turn to primary legal aid institutions for assistance with filling in the application form for secondary legal aid.

Drawing on the findings of the research, HRMI issued recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, institution responsible for overseeing state guaranteed legal aid system, where it suggested the ways for improving accessibility of services. The report was also presented on 16 December, during the conference “Justice in Lithuania: right of privilege?”, organized by HRMI in partnership with Lithuanian Bar Association and Ministry of Justice, where the developments and the future of pro bono services and state guaranteed legal aid were discussed. Conclusions and recommendations of the report can be found here.

Full text of the report in Lithuanian can be found here.