Guaranteeing a human right: Free Legal Aid
January 25, 2023
"Without the help of the free legal aid center, I would have never been able to afford a lawyer to fight for my children's alimony. Thanks to their support, I was able to get the financial support my kids needed and deserved. I am forever grateful for the help they provided me during one of the most difficult times in my life."
"As a Roma woman, I felt alone and helpless when my husband started to physically abuse me. I had no money to afford a lawyer, and I couldn't even think of divorce. But thanks to the free legal aid center, I was able to get a protection order and finally escape the abuse. Their assistance was a lifesaver for me and my children."
"I am an old woman who had to struggle alone to claim my pension benefits. I didn't have the means to afford a lawyer, and my case was getting complicated. But thanks to the help I received from the free legal aid center in my own town, I finally got the assistance I needed. I was able to get the pension benefits that I deserved, and it changed my life. I am so grateful for their help and support; it gave me the peace of mind and security I needed in my old age."
These are but a few voices coming from beneficiaries of the "Expanding Free Legal Aid Services to Women and Men in Albania" (EFLAS) Project, which is being implemented in 12 regions across Albania.
In Albania, there is a high demand for free legal aid services. In partnership with the Austrian Development Cooperation, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has established 12 free legal aid centers across the country.
The centers are working to implement the legal and policy framework through their primary free legal aid services provided to the most vulnerable women and men in the country. Through the EFLAS project, direct support is provided to the Free Legal Aid Directorate at the Ministry of Justice, which manages and oversees the Free Legal Aid Law's implementation by all free legal aid providers. In partnership with this directorate, the Albanian School of Public Administration, and the Chamber of Advocates of Albania, UNDP supports the advancement of the professional capacities of jurists and lawyers working within the free legal aid scheme with a keen focus on access to justice for vulnerable individuals. As a result, 209 lawyers are trained on secondary free legal aid and 28 public officials on primary free legal aid, with a specific focus on issues related to gender-based discrimination and women's clients' needs.
These centers have provided primary free legal aid services to over 5159 individuals during 2022 alone, with a particular focus on women and girls. The most common cases requiring free legal aid include divorce, protection orders, birth registrations, alimony benefits, pension benefits, work compensation, immigration criminal law, social benefits, inheritance cases, and property rights.
During the course of the project, UNDP worked to strengthen partnerships with national human rights institutions and civil society organizations to reach remote communities and vulnerable individuals and empower them with information about their rights. UNDP is partnering with 16 specialized NGOs to provide primary and secondary free legal aid services, legal awareness and education, and mobile services in 36 municipalities. The focus is on reaching women and girls, victims of gender-based violence and discrimination, members of the Roma and Egyptian communities, the LGBTI+ community, people with disabilities, and the elderly.
So far, 5,440 vulnerable citizens have been reached with legal information about their rights and how to make use of protection mechanisms.