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Free legal assistance now more widely available

By Ernest Petrosyan
Monday, April 26
The first Legal Aid Service Bureau in Akhaltsikhe, in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, was opened with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on April 22. Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, Head of the United Nations Development Program in Georgia (UNDP) Jamie McGoldrick and Legal Aid Service Director Irakli Kobidze conducted the ceremony. The bureau’s six public attorneys and consultants will provide any type of free legal service to the residents of the Adigeni, Akhaltsikhe, Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda and Borjomi municipalities.

“The legal aid service is a very important aspect of our Ministry’s activity. The new legal assistance bureau in Akhaltsikhe will serve residents of Samtskhe-Javakheti region. This bureau will provide advice and legal aid to socially vulnerable people, ethnic minorities, internally displaced persons and all those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer or receive free legal aid and advice. I would like extend my gratitude to UNDP for such significant support”, stated Khatuna Kalmakhelidze. “Our legal aid service seeks to continually improve in order to be able to help more people”, she added.

“We have made an important step forward in helping improve the juridical system and service in Georgia. The legal aid bureau will serve socially vulnerable residents of the region and members of ethnic minorities. For several years UNDP has been successfully participating in the development of the court and legal aid systems, and we wish to continue this cooperation in order to make the justice system more accessible for people”, stated Jamie McGoldrick.

“Samtskhe-Javakheti is the last region to which the legal service jurisdiction has been extended. With the support of UNDP the population of Samtskhe-Javakheti is now able to gain free legal assistance. This is very important in building a fair and democratic state. There are three aspects to the service: representation by public lawyers in criminal cases, free legal advice and assistance in drawing up legal documents,” stated Irakli Kobidze.

“There are six public lawyers and one consultant. They have helped in about 40 criminal cases, drawn up up to 20 legal documents and provided more than one hundred consultations. Our region has a distinct population profile, as more than 60% of its residents are ethnic Armenians. Our consultant Tina Akopyan is of Armenian origin and will give legal advice to Armenian-speaking residents,” stated the Director of the Legal Aid Bureau David Zaridze.

Residents of Akhaltsikhe welcomed the opening of the bureau. “Many people need and want to apply for legal services, hire a lawyer or just receive advice; however many of them cannot afford it”. “It is really good if there is a consultant who speaks Armenian, as this will help those who do not speak Georgian," stated the residents of Akhaltsikhe.

The state-funded legal aid system run by the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance of Georgia provides legal services to all citizens, but especially the socially and economically vulnerable. Through a US 200,000 project UNDP is helping the Legal Aid Service expand its work throughout Georgia, train lawyers and inform the public about its services.

Georgia adopted the Law on Legal Aid in 2007, and this state-funded service, initially run by the Ministry of Justice, was transferred to the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance in February 2009. In the future, the Legal Assistance Service aims to provide full representation in civil and administrative cases. It will also reach vulnerable citizens, national minorities and internally displaced people.