The Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, Aleksandar Martinović, PhD, and the Minister of Justice, Maja Popović, have signed today, on behalf of these two ministries, the Joint Statement for Improving the Implementation of the Law on Free Legal Aid. This cooperation confirmed the launch of a joint campaign and a series of project activities aimed at raising public awareness of the availability of free legal aid to the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals.
Minister Martinović has said that MDULS is actively involved in solving challenges in the field of free legal aid and that, with the support of the Swiss Government and the Swiss PRO programme, it financially supported the establishment of a free advisory service for legal aid in the past few years for the most vulnerable citizens in 13 Local Self-government Units. Martinović has said that the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government shall continue its work on strengthening the free legal aid system in Serbia, as well as on raising the level of information and training of local officials in this area. Proof of this is today’s event and the signing of a joint statement by our two ministries, with which, with the support of a multi-donor project, we are starting the process of strengthening personnel capacities in Local Self-government Units, so that they can better plan and provide financial resources within their budgets for providing free legal aid, but also so that the civil servants working on these tasks could successfully provide quality support to exercising of the rights and legal interests of all our citizens, Martinović has concluded.
Minister Popović has stated that the joint action of the two ministries will significantly improve the free legal aid system, which guarantees professional representation to vulnerable social categories in those areas where such aid is most often requested. She has emphasized that the normative framework for those activities is fully completed, as well as that the Council for Monitoring the Free Legal Aid System is established. The transparency and efficiency of the procedure for appointing free legal aid providers from among lawyers was additionally improved through the “call centre” app, which was developed on the basis of institutional cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and the Bar Association of Serbia, Popović has pointed out. The Ministry of Justice shall continue with the implementation of a number of remaining project activities in this area, which are primarily related to raising public awareness of the availability of free legal aid for our citizens, Popović has said during the signing of the Joint Statement.
“The true image of any society is reflected in the way it treats its most vulnerable members, and that also means ensuring equal access to justice for all citizens. That basic right faces numerous challenges, especially lack of awareness and poor knowledge of available methods, not only in Serbia but also in the EU. And that is exactly what this joint action seeks to achieve – the further raising of awareness among the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals about the availability of legal aid, and improving existing capacities and cooperation between different service providers. This action takes place within the framework of the project “EU for Fight Against Corruption and for Fundamental Rights”, which is financed by the EU and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, whereby access to free legal aid is an important part of it,” the Deputy Head of EU Delegation to Serbia, Plamena Halacheva, has said.
The Head of Development Cooperation of the Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany, Christian Schilling, has emphasized Germany’s strong support for Serbia’s commitment to strengthening the free legal aid system through support for the implementation of planned activities within the Action Plan from Chapter 23. “Strong support for Serbia’s reform efforts, within the framework of German development cooperation in areas of critical importance for EU accession, shall serve as a cornerstone for improving the rule of law and government accountability – values which are important for both of our countries. Strengthening the free legal aid system ensures protection against threats to the integrity and dignity of every person, which are values that are of great importance for the EU and Germany,” Schilling has said.
The planned campaign will also include training of employees at Local Self-government Units in respect of planning and provision of financial resources in local budgets for the purpose of financing free legal aid. As part of the campaign, training shall be conducted with the aim of strengthening the capacities of employees in local self-governments and the Ministry of Justice, in order to achieve a satisfactory legal procedure in terms of quality. Project activities that will contribute to more efficient supervision over the implementation of the Law on Free Legal Aid are also envisaged. The campaign is supported by the project “Facility Supporting the Strengthening of the Rule of Law in the Republic of Serbia – EU for Fight against Corruption and for Fundamental rights”, which is jointly financed by the EU and German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
The ceremony of signing the statement was also attended by the members of the Government Council for Free Legal Aid. On this occasion, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government have invited Local Self-government Units to cooperate in all planned project activities aimed at strengthening the free legal aid system in the Republic of Serbia.