Legal Aid as a Human Right

Legal Aid as a Human Right

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) is the representative organisation of around 1 million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies from 31 full member countries, and 11 further associate and observer countries.

The Council holds as first principle that access to justice is a fundamental right, an essential part and instrument of human rights, stipulated and protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 6 of the ECHR provides for free access to justice for any individual, without regard to his or her social status or economic position. Legal aid is an essential tool in ensuring such access and the Council considers it the duty of states and governments to guarantee, organise and finance such legal-aid systems, which permit those with the least means to obtain access to justice.

A meeting of the CCBE in Brussels at the end of last month was addressed by Europe’s commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Viviane Reding. She said: “Justice is a right, but without the means to pay for it, it is denied.”
Toon Musschoot, the representative of the Belgian Minister of Justice, said: “Justice is a public service and, as such, it must receive particular political attention, both in terms of quality and in terms of means.” Council President José-María Davó-Fernández called on governments and EU institutions to pay more than lip-service to legal aid and to deliver on what they have committed to in fundamental rights instruments.

The Council made specific recommendations to achieve Union wide equality of legal aid provision. Firstly legal aid should be dealt with as a fundamental right that guarantees access to justice and allows real and effective defence, granted to all irrespective of residence or nationality. A specific EU budget line should be set up to ensure the development of a European legal aid scheme and to support national schemes within Member States. Legal aid coverage should be available for all legal areas, jurisdictions and alternative dispute resolutions, including the assistance of a lawyer at all stages of the proceedings, the assistance of experts, translation and interpretation, and other trial costs, with specific coverage for additional costs arising out of cross-border trials. Common minimum standards should be set for granting legal aid within the territory of the EU. And there should be support for specific training for lawyers who provide services in the framework of legal aid.

Writing in the ‘Law Gazette’, Jonathan Rayner examines the possibility that the EU pledge to set mandatory levels of civil and criminal legal aid for member states from 2013 could cut across government proposals for drastic UK savings. He quotes the Law Society’s head of legal aid policy Richard Miller as saying: “The UK government’s proposed cuts to legal aid will put us out of step with the rest of Europe, which is embarking on a programme of broadening access to publicly funded representation, not shrinking it. There is a real danger that the proposed cuts will make us dip below the minimum standards imposed by the EU. We will have to make a humiliating U-turn and drag ourselves back up to an acceptable level.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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