Paralegals will help improve the legal aid system in Ukraine
The International Renaissance Foundation, together with Legal Development Network, Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, United States Agency for International Development, and Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation held an international conference “Paralegals in Ukraine”.
It brought together representatives of paralegals community from all over Ukraine and from abroad, as well as public organizations and state institutions.
The event took place on November 28, 2018.
Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine Ivanna Smachylo addressed the audience with the greeting, which emphasized the importance of ensuring access to justice for people and expressed gratitude for the development of the paralegals institution in Ukraine.
Ivanna Smachylo, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine: “People go to government bodies reluctantly and only in case of urgent need. A closed circle comes out: to build a successful legal country, this closed circle needs to be broken.
Paralegals are people who have basic legal knowledge and are representatives of civil society, they are ambassadors of the goodwill of the legal system in their communities.”
Roman Romanov, Director of the Human Rights and Justice Program of the International Renaissance Foundation, noted that the Foundation had made great efforts to establish the institution of paralegals in Ukraine, disclosing the reasons for its creation.
Roman Romanov, Director of the Human Rights and Justice Program of the International Renaissance Foundation: “We can already say that this phenomenon, paralegals in Ukraine, really took place. Now it is very important to make sure that this feeling is shared with Ukrainian citizens.
It is very important that today, in the field of access to justice, there is a certain progress, built on the basis of synergy. Now this is to greater extent a joint endeavor of different institutions, a joint progress; these are not small, atomized initiatives any more we began with.
And previously, we lacked greatly a tool for attracting active citizens, like paralegals now”
After that, the paralegals participating in the conference described the system of their training and shared their own experience. In particular, Anatoliy Levchuk, Konstiantin Lihanenko, Olesya Roznatova, Iryna Ostrovska, Olena Khomich and Oleksandr Repin spoke about their work.
Representatives of organizations involved in the activities of paralegals expressed their views on the development of this institution in Ukraine. In particular, the Adviser of the Minister of Justice of Ukraine Aliona Semykina addressed the audience; in her opinion, paralegals are able to become an important link, their work can significantly improve the system of legal protection.
Aliona Semykina, Advisor to the Minister of Justice of Ukraine: “Today’s presentation of paralegals is quite symbolic. Yesterday, Ukraine, for the first time since gaining independence, joined the Generous Tuesday Global Initiative. This means that in Ukraine there is a critical mass of people who are deliberately ready to help others. And helping others, empathy are the standard of living. And in order to be protected, people must understand their rights, protect them, know whom to address for help. At the same time, Ukrainian citizens do not trust the system of government and do not go to private lawyers, because in most cases it is very expensive. And our task is to say that there is a system of free legal aid, including spreading information through the system of paralegals. People performing communication function are needed greatly. Paralegals are to become a link between the state legal aid system and a citizen who often does not know where to go if there is a problem. “
Oleksiy Boniuk, Director of the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision, informed the conference participants on the state of the system of free legal aid, talking on the role paralegals can play in providing legal aid.
Oleksiy Boniuk, Director of the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision: “Paralegals are an important link that is still lacking, and they can provide for community empowerment. Effective protection of the rights of citizens without them is impossible. And it is very good that such a project has already taken place in Ukraine. The country that for decades was a totalitarian reservation characterized with legal nihilism, requires spreading legal aid and legal knowledge.”
Director of the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation Mykola Sioma focused on the peculiarities of the institution of paralegals and advantages they bring to the society.
Mykola Sioma, director of the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation: “Paralegals are part of the legal aid system. They have the advantage of being one of the actors, providing certain services, they have the advantage of being those who finally allow people to articulate their position and bring it to the state so that the authorities hear the community and respond to its needs.”
Executive director of the Legal Development Network (LDN) Yevgen Poltenko noted that today a significant part of the population of Ukraine is in a difficult financial situation, it has no access to legal aid and does not have knowledge that would allow solving legal problems. At the same time, the resources available to provide such an assistance are not sufficient to meet the need for it.
Yevhen Poltenko, executive director of the LDN: “The need for legal aid is so great that neither the state, nor the international development organizations, nor the public sector, nor such powerful networks as ours, are not able to fully satisfy it today or tomorrow. And paralegals can do it. Therefore, our Legal Development Network supported in the past, is supporting and will support this initiative as it is very timely and can help people who are suffering from legal problems, especially those who cannot afford applying for professional legal aid. “
A separate part of the conference was devoted to the international experience of the development of paralegals institution. Thus, Michael Otto, a representative of the global paralegals network NAMATI, addressed the participants. He spoke about the history of this organization, its activities in many countries around the world. In particular, he dwelt in detail on the “Justice for all” program, which is being implemented.
Michael Otto, NAMATI: “To date, more than 4 billion people around the world are outside the protection of the law. In 2015, over 190 countries have adopted Sustainable development goals to be achieved by 2030, which include, among other issues, the need to take measures to ensure access to justice for people. According to many human rights activists, the steps being taken by governments by now are not sufficient. The goal of the “Justice for all” campaign is to draw the attention of governments to the need for ensuring effective access to justice for all”.
Nan Normand, a paralegal from Canada, spoke about the work of paralegals in her country, the challenges they have to deal with, and their activities. According to her, the role of paralegals is especially important in remote areas of the country where problems exist with access to justice.
Nan Normand, an expert at the Northwest Community Law Clinic, Canada: “Our citizens feel secure in general, but the gap between the poor and the rich is increasing. Recently, we have begun to actively develop and support social enterprises for people who cannot find a job. It is worth noting that our countries have a lot in common. In both our countries there are systems, which benefits are not easy to be used if a person does not understand the legal issues. We also have marginalized social groups. We also have systems that are not interested in changes. Many people live in crisis, from crisis to crisis, many have traumatic experiences, and paralegals play a significant role in improving their living conditions.”
Sonia Osho-Williams (Sierra Leone), Violetta Odagiu (Moldova), and Susana Velkovska (Macedonia) spoke about activities of paralegals in their countries.
Within the framework of the conference “a legal theater” took place; the paralegals played several case stories of providing legal aid.
In addition, during the event, a group discussion was held on topics related to the activities of paralegals: their role in providing access to justice; why amalgamated territorial communities need paralegals; and the benefits paralegals provide dealing with vulnerable groups of the population.
Sergiy Shevel, coordinator of the platform for legislation of the Association of amalgamated territorial communities: “In Ukraine, in rural and remote regions, there is an acute shortage of lawyers. And this uneven distribution of lawyers is precisely one of the reasons for implementing the initiative to establish an institution of paralegals.”
Olga Nastina, Head of NGO “Legal Unity”: “Paralegals can play an important role in the activities of amalgamated territorial communities. Their task is to direct people in the structures formed by those communities.”
Written by Sergii Rybak, LDN communications manager
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