Additional 700,000€ allocated for first-tier legal counseling
A round table at the Ministry of Justice included discussion on how to make legal aid more accessible to Estonian residents. An additional 700,000 euros has been allocated to improving access to first-tier legal counseling.
The state would like to improve access to first-tier legal aid for low-income individuals as well as improve opportunities for obtaining legal aid across Estonia, reported ERR’s radio news.
According to Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu, one of the most critical regions in need is Ida-Viru County in Northeastern Estonia.
The minister noted that first-tier legal advice is needed for various situations, including in relation to labor law, if someone wants to know how to defend their rights in labor relations, ownership issues, which may affect matters involving apartment associations, questions involving child support payments, and questions involving how to respond to a state-issued administrative injunction.
“Therefore we would like to develop as flexible a system as possible, where someone would consult with a legal advisor who would explain to the client briefly and in layman’s terms what their opportunities are before helping them fill out any documents,” explained Reinsalu.
The legal reform also seeks to consider whether the country must still indiscriminately foot the bill for legal aid for all persons involved in criminal cases.
According to the minister, a big part of available funds today is spent on legal aid designated to, for example, drunk drivers, the tab for which, in his opinion, should not necessarily and indiscriminately be paid for using taxpayer money.
“Speaking of criminal offenses against property, for example, then Finland has followed the model that if the case involved is a simple one, whose circumstances are understandable to people in terms of standard logic, then legal counsel is not designated [to the defendant], but rather [the defendant] can apply for it under special circumstances,” explained Reinsalu. “Naturally a person would have the right to pay for [legal counsel] themselves, however such a luxury package will not be offered by the state.”
An additional 700,000 euros has been earmarked by the state for use in order to improve first-tier legal counseling. Now the question would remain how to best organize said legal counseling — whether to organize contests for non-profit organizations so that different organizations could begin offering legal counsel in various different regions, or whether the Estonian Bar Association would take on the central role itself.
“Such options are currently being considered,” said Reinsalu. “We have prepared a few alternatives in advance, and would like to hold debates with representatives of the legal community, various associations, and potential clients of these services, above all those associated with organizations for the elderly and persons with disabilities — people who need this legal aid themselves.”