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How a non-governmental organization in Kyiv oblast reopened the Community Justice Center

Publication date: January 1, 2024

The Legal Development Network member organization, NGO “Legal Unity”, Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, resumed the operation of the Community Justice Center (CJC) in July 2023 with the support of USAID. The initiative covers nine settlements of Bila Tserkva, Fastiv, and Obukhiv districts of Kyiv oblast.

For the NGO “Legal Unity”, this is a continuation and scaling up of the experience that the organization already had several years ago, taking into account the context of a full-scale war.

Project manager, lawyer of the Bila Tserkva City NGO “Legal Unity” Inna Malyshko. Photo: from the personal archive of Inna Malyshko

“In April 2020, as part of one of the projects of the Legal Development Network, we established a Community Justice Center in Bila Tserkva. It was a multifunctional platform for establishing interaction between local authorities and residents of the Bila Tserkva community to address their daily legal needs and ensure access to justice. The Center managed to implement a “one-stop shop” for people’s access to legal, administrative and social services and to become a dialogue platform for communication between the community and the authorities and the court to jointly solve problems in the community. Today, in the face of the challenges of a full-scale war, we realized that the CJC could be a good tool to overcome them, so we undertook to implement this project on our own. Taking into account the results we see, we are even more convinced of this,” says Inna Malyshko, project manager, lawyer of the Bila Tserkva city public organization “Legal Unity”.

As of March 1, 2024, 980 community residents have received legal aid since the center’s launch, more than 20 students have gained practical skills in court work, and internally displaced persons have been able to improve their knowledge of decision-making tools to be implemented by the local IDP council. More about these and other achievements of the center will be discussed below.

In the photo: a meeting with IDPs. September 2023. Photo by NGO “Legal Unity”

School of Young Justice

Reenactment of a trial with students of Bila Tserkva Agrarian University. Photo: NGO “Legal Unity”

In October 2023, the CJC began to familiarize the students of Bila Tserkva Agrarian University with the work of the court in more detail. During the meetings with judges, they learned about the most frequently encountered issues, how the court process works in practice, the rights and obligations of its participants, and much more.

“We previously conducted a survey among potential participants of the school. It showed that the majority of them were interested in it in the context of their future practice, as they plan to work in court. Some see themselves initially as a judge’s assistant or a judge’s secretary. There are those who want to work in inquiry, investigation, and prosecution agencies.

The university program provides for the study of civil procedure, with only theoretical foundations. Students have the opportunity to do an internship after the second year in court. However, due to the heavy workload of judges, students usually do not have the opportunity to communicate directly with them about their experience and skills, as well as their vision of work. Our school has just provided such an opportunity. Here, students share their thoughts with judges, and they, in turn, speak frankly about the real state of affairs in the profession,” says project manager Inna Malyshko.

It is worth noting that the judges of the Bila Tserkva City District Court themselves appreciated this experience of working with young people. For example, another judge joined the team that worked at the school, noting that it was an important practice for him.

The school lasted five months and eventually allowed the participants to fully recreate a court hearing.

This is the first such experience of the NGO “Legal Unity”. So the team of trainers will summarize the experience and test the program to scale up the school of young judges, for example, to an audience of secondary school students who plan to enter law schools. 

Assistance to IDPs

The CJC and the NGO “Legal Unity” effectively help internally displaced persons in cooperation with the NGO “Soniakh”, which unites more than 1100 IDPs in Bila Tserkva. As part of the work of the Community Justice Center, IDPs are trained to participate in local government, attend resource meetings with a psychologist, and acquire the competencies of paramedics.

Facilitation discussion on the interaction between the CSP and IDPs. August, 2023. Photo: NGO “Legal Unity”

“The IDPs have divided the areas they are working on. Someone is working on the establishment and work of the IDP council at the city council, and we are helping with information and legal support. The head of the NGO “Soniakh” became its chairman, by the way. Someone is driving the direction of social protection of IDPs. We tell them how to set up an NGO and implement certain initiatives,” says Inna Malyshko.

Thanks to the systematic support of the Community Justice Center, IDPs understand where they need to go to resolve certain issues. Having received the necessary tools, their activities in protecting their rights and engaging in decision-making become more focused and effective.

In addition, the СJC specialists are supporting four cases that can be resolved through mediation, three of which concern IDPs. For the most part, these requests are complex and require legal and psychological support.

Legal assistance

Lyudmyla Vlasenko, a lawyer at the Legal Center, provides legal advice. Photo: NGO “Legal Unity”

More than 900 people have already received assistance from the Community Justice Center. 

“Legal Unity has been providing primary legal aid for many years, so we are known and trusted. However, after the CJC started working, there are many new remote villages that we visit, because their residents also have a request for legal aid,” notes Inna Malyshko.

Providing legal aid to residents of Kashperivka village in Kyiv region. Photo: NGO “Legal Unity”

CJC lawyers travel at the request of starostas, who help organize meetings with those who have questions. Along with the most common issues related to inheritance, pension payments, subsidies, and land lease, there are also highly specialized issues due to changes in legislation.

“We are often approached directly by representatives of various departments of local governments with a request to help them deal with issues raised by community residents. The REC not only provides effective assistance, but also creates platforms for communication and understanding. We will continue to support all this this year and have launched an important study on the functioning of the jury institute in Kyiv region,” Inna Malyshko said.

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