ACTION: HF 35: Support to legal aid reforms

The action “Support to legal aid reforms” is part of the European Union and Council of Europe programmatic framework “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey” (Horizontal Facility). The action aimed to support the Ministry of Justice in improving the processing of free legal aid applications, strengthening their capacity for providing the increased scope and the quality of services. Staff of the Regional Offices of the MoJ, lawyers, members of the Macedonian Bar Association, and of the civil society organisations benefited from the training and assistance provided through the implementation of the action. The project supported initiatives to increase the numbers and availability of lawyers willing to provide legal services provided through the free legal aid services. In co-operation with the Bar Association, police and other authorities the project developed protocols to help to ensure timely access of detained persons to lawyers. The action also aimed to facilitate the process of changes of the current legal aid system following the adoption of the new Law on Free Legal Aid (LFLA).

Summary of Key Results

  • Legal reviews were conducted for the Ministry of Justice in the process of finalizing the draft law on Free Legal Aid through expert revision of the two consecutive drafts to ensure compliance with relevant European standards.
  • In order to enhance the professionalism of Ministry of Justice staff in the Regional Offices, a comprehensive curriculum and training material were developed covering both the knowledge and skills needed to deal with legal aid applicants, including also modules on gender awareness and specific needs of vulnerable groups.
  • A pool of 11 trainers was formed within the Ministry of Justice through the provision of Training of Trainers. The training material and the pool of internal trainers provide the Ministry of Justice with much needed practical tools for future continuous training of its staff.
  • Practical tools to improve the efficiency and quality of the work of the Regional Offices and other providers were designed and disseminated to relevant stakeholders.
    • In particular, the Action introduced a tool for processing free legal aid applications for workers in Regional Offices, containing step-by-step guidelines for dealing with applicants and for efficient decision making, as well as templates to be used and key values to be reflected in the offices’ daily work.
    • It also introduced mini-tools/checklists to enable free legal aid providers to assess and improve quality in their case files and organizational management as well as to implement appropriate complaint procedures. The mini-tools/checklists provide step-by-step and tailored guidance to professionals in the Ministry of Justice, Regional Offices, authorized NGOs and lawyers’ firms in the adoption of good practices to streamline their working methods, to ensure high quality of their services and efficient case file management through the adoption of simplified approaches that can be immediately implemented with the means currently available.
  • The Ministry of Justice was supported in adopting a more efficient approach to communication including internally, with other stakeholders and with the public, through the adoption of a communication strategy and action plan to be implemented upon entry into force of the new legislation. The communication strategy and action plan pay special attention to gender awareness and needs of vulnerable groups. It was developed in close cooperation with the responsible staff in the Ministry of Justice.

As to cross-cutting issues, all outputs have been designed to take into consideration gender perspective in a meaningful way, including both outputs pertaining to capacity building as well as communication-related activities and those pertaining to decision-making. There was gender balance in the selection of experts, participants in ToT and all capacity-related events. One of the Ministry of Justice staff members selected to be a trainer of peers in the Ministry is a woman with disabilities.

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