14 Letters sent to Romanian Public Authorities on Access to Justice

24.05.2016 / 13:16 / Access to Justice

Following the launch of the 2015 activity report of The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights, ACTEDO sent 14 letters to relevant public authorities in the field of access to justice and development, such as: The Romanian Government, The Ministry of Justice, The Ministry of European Funds, The National Association of Romanian Bars, The High Court of Justice, The Superior Council of Magistracy, The National Council for Combating Discrimination, National Institute for Lawyers’ Professional Development, and, among others, The Law Faculty of Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca.

In short, the letters encourage these public authorities to publicly support and regulate pro bono lawyering in Romania, to introduce a direct financing mechanisms in the area of access to justice and human rights, to provide support and offer legal aid for the NGOs working with vulnerable groups, as well as to organize training sessions for legal professionals in the field of human rights.

The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights is presently the pro bono clearinghouse with the largest geographical coverage in Romania, who works directly with individuals whose rights have been violated. In one year of activity, we have received over 100 requests for legal assistance and we have managed to offer support to approximately 100 beneficiaries (e.g. children with disabilities, victims of gender-based violence, people suffering from chronic diseases, Roma, LGBTQI people, etc.) by collaborating efficiently with 48 Pro Bono Lawyers. The need for free legal services is nevertheless extremely high and this project covers but a small fraction of it. Therefore, access to justice for all is a challenge to the formal justice system but also to us as responsible citizens.

Recommendations (as written in the Report):

  • Given the fundamental role played by lawyers in social change and the protection of human rights, as well as the lack of a pro bono culture in Romania, we recommend the explicit encouragement of pro bono lawyering – as an instrument to promote human rights – by institutions with responsibilities in the field of access to justice (Bar Associations, The National Association of Romanian Bars, the Ministry of Justice). The support should be formal, through a declaration/ official position introduced in the normative acts regarding the legal profession (regulations, legislation for the organization and practice of the lawyer’s profession). Pro Bono lawyering is not specifically regulated in Romania, despite it having a basis in legislation referring to the legal profession. Therefore, we recommend regulating pro bono activities carried out by lawyers, emphasising professional freedom and its role in defending human rights and democracy.
  • Given the central position occupied by lawyers in providing access to justice of vulnerable groups, we recommend the National Institute for the Formation and Training of Lawyers to organise training sessions for lawyers in the field of human rights and anti-discrimination. The majority of lawyers who attended ACTEDO’s training sessions signalled a lack of professional training in this field. These training sessions should, in our opinion, have an interdisciplinary approach and contain not only legal information, but also information on the experiences of vulnerable groups.
  • We recommend the creation of legal clinics within the Faculties of Law in Romania. In our opinion, legal clinics are vital instruments not only for facilitating access to justice, but also for students to gain practical skills and knowledge.
  • During ACTEDO’s work meetings with NGOs from the counties of Cluj, Bistriţa-Năsăud and Mureş most cases signalled by the NGOs were eligible prima facie for legal assistance through The Pro Bono Network. Nevertheless, almost no organisation contacted us to request pro bono legal assistance and many of them mentioned their lack of trust in the justice system. We consider that it is essential to support NGOs, especially those working directly with vulnerable groups, to obtain free legal assistance through specific consultation programmes, which can be organised by Bar Associations or the Ministry of Justice.
  • We recommend the non-refundable financing mechanisms which operate in Romania to create specific financing programmes in the field of human rights and access to justice. It is extremely problematic that this field is almost absent from non-refundable financing programmes in Romania, given the high demand of legal information, assistance and representation for vulnerable groups.

There is need for more support from the local and national community (public and private) for the creation of similar clearinghouses in Romania. This is a model that functions all over the world and the pilot clearinghouse The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights is proof that it can successfully be implemented in Romania as well, with great benefits for the community. The clearinghouse does not currently have the necessary resources for a national coverage and the requests received in one year were too many to be addressed in a short time.

Iulia Pascu, Coordinator of The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights