More than 100,000 people in Estonia can’t get free legal advice due to their income being slightly above the minimum. At the same time, they don’t earn enough to pay for legal advice in the case of unexpected legal issues, the Justice Ministry said on Wednesday.
“So far only people who earn less than the official minimum wage can get free legal advice from the state, as well as members of large families as an exception,” Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu (IRL) said. “Apart from them, there is a big number of people in Estonia who at first glance can manage covering their daily expenses like food, housing, clothes and medication, but whose income does not allow them to hire a lawyer, as that costs around €130 an hour plus VAT. According to the Justice Ministry's estimations there are 100,000 to 150,000 such people in Estonia,” he added.
According to Reinsalu, it cannot be justified that such a large number of Estonian residents doesn’t have access to legal advice.
"The Justice Ministry is basing its estimation on data published by Statistics Estonia, according to which 25.5 percent of the country's residents, or nearly 330,000 people, lived in poverty or absolute poverty in 2015, which means that their monthly income was less than €429. Depending on the size of the household and several other factors, the number of people who can’t afford legal advice at today's market conditions is twice as big. At the same time it was also taken into account that not all people need legal advice and some of them can get legal advice on their own,” he said.
The ministry will introduce an broad information campaign on Wednesday to showcase a new legal advice system that would considerably increase the number of people entitled to get free or less expensive legal advice from the state.
“According to the new system, all Estonian residents whose gross salary is up to 1.5 times the Estonian average as calculated by Statistics Estonia, or around €1,730, will have access to free or less expensive legal advice,” the main initiator or the project, Gunnar Vaikmaa, said.
Legal advice will be offered based on a 2+3+10 system, which means that for the first two hours a person has to pay only €5 per visit, while for the next three hours a person has to pay €20 per hour plus VAT. In addition, a person will be entitled to get ten hours of legal advice at a rate considerably cheaper than the market price, namely €40 an hour plus VAT.
Access to legal aid will also improve on a regional level, Vaikmaa added. “There was a competition to find a law office to offer legal advice with support from the state, and the competition was won by Eesti Õigusbüroo. They will offer legal advice in 15 locations around Estonia,” he added.
The law firm will also offer legal advice online in Estonian as well as Russian at www. juristaitab.ee.
Editor: Dario Cavegn