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UNDP highlights Importance of Legal Aid Service in Georgia

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Friday, July 20
On July 19, a conference dedicated to issues of universal and available legal aid service took place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Tbilisi. UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance (MCLA) of Georgia in cooperation with the USAID/East-West Management Institute were the organizers of the event. The conference discussed effective legal aid for all Georgian citizens including the socially and economically vulnerable. Currently, 11 bureaus and 3 consultation centres across Georgia are available as well as legal aid mobile group service.

Head of UNDP in Georgia, Jamie McGoldrick stated that Georgian legal aid has become an example of success for other countries in the region and this is important that others can benefit from that. He highlighted that people– especially vulnerable ones, should have regular access to this service. “It is very important for the UNDP to be here and support the legal aid service for the vulnerable population to have universal access to legal aid service in Georgia. UNDP stands ready to continue support in regard to bringing more access for people requiring legal aid service. We are ready to work closely with the government and civil society and other international partners,” McGoldrick stated.

Deputy Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Giorgi Arsoshvili welcomed the guests and the organizers for arranging the conference. According to him legal aid service is one of the priorities of the ministry and their aim is to provide residents with qualified and professional assistance. Arsoshvili emphasized that special attention is paid to IDPs, economically vulnerable people and ethnic minorities.

The Deputy Minister says that lawyers’ independence is very important and the ministry supports them. Although the ministry encourages the lawyers to be independent, the Executive Director of the Georgian young Lawyers Association, Eka Popkhadze, says that the status of legal aid service should be further determined. In particular, she says that it is doubtful that the service which is subordinated to the ministry is fully independent.

“We can name several examples where an interest conflict takes place. For instance, a prisoner has addressed the legal aid service who says that he/she is the victim of torture and asks LAS to defend his/her interests. In this case, the interest conflict is obvious. We suggest revising this issue to somehow separate this service and ministry,” Popkhadze told The Messenger.

The conference was attended by Regional Legal Advisor of USAID Peter Young who congratulated the Georgian government on the reforms carried out in this field. “The Georgian government has done a lot of work in regards to providing and expanding legal aid service in recent years. However, despite the progress there is much to be done to ensure independent, high-quality, free legal aid for the people of Georgia. The lawyers need to be independent, as the clients’ interest is the first [priority],” he said.

The Legal Aid Service is an important component of reform. Legal Aid Service is a state funded organization, ensuring free legal aid to the socially vulnerable population. The service was established in July 2007 and currently covers nearly all of Georgia.