Legal aid for vulnerable groups in Kyrgyzstan

Posted August 16, 2018

Residents of Kyzyl Oktabr village in the Chui region are waiting their turn for legal consultation. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Having been hostpitalized after her husband beat her, Irina Evdokimova, a resident of Orlovka city, divorced him and obtained full custody of her four children. Having sent her children to a boarding school during her treatment, she couldn’t get her children back from the school. “I needed an experienced lawyer, but I did not have money for a lawyer’s services,” said Irina.

Irina’s situation is common in Kyrgyzstan, where the services of an attorney range from US$21 to US$144 and legal representation costs more than US$360, a burden for many people in a country where 2015, 32 percent of the population lived in poverty.

She sought help at her local free legal aid center. The lawyer there assisted her to fill out and collect all the necessary documents. “The court process took a very long time. But we won the case and that is the most important thing. I took my children back home,” said Irina.

Irina is one of thousands who have benefited from free legal aid centers set up across the country. Since 2014, UNDP and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland have brought together legal institutions, an independent bar association and civil society organizations and set up 14 offices to give people access to free legal aid.

But cost itself is not the only obstacle. Access to legal advice and representation is limited also due to the lack of qualified lawyers in rural and remote areas of the country. Citizens of these areas have to travel up to 18 km to receive legal services. The distance and the resulting transportation costs represent a significant problem especially for mothers with young children, people with disabilities and senior citizens.

To address this, UNDP, in partnership with the Legal Advocacy Department of the Ministry of Justice, set up a specialized bus service in the remote Osh and Chui regions of the country. To date, lawyers have visited 173 villages using that mode of transportation.

Lawyers of the “Solidarity Bus” are giving legal consultation in Kyzyl Oktabr village, Chui region. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Access to justice is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), playing an essential role in improving the situation of vulnerable groups in society.

In 2016, the legal aid project provided more than 18,091 oral and written legal consultations for the benefit of 16,807 people, more than 98 representations outside the courts and 82 at the courts.

Building on this success, the UNDP project has been supporting the development of a new law on state-guaranteed legal aid. “This law was adopted on December 2016. One of the main novelties of the law is introduction of the right for professional legal services in civil and administrative cases. In addition, the new law widened the circle of individuals who are entitled to receive state guaranteed free legal aid. It makes the law social-oriented and easy to use. Gradually, free legal aid should become a separate branch with permanent state funding and covering the whole population,” said Ainura Alymbekova, UNDP project coordinator.