"In spite of recent legislative steps aimed at improving the free legal aid system in Albania, concerns remain about its compatibility with the Council of Europe standards in this field" said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, publishing a letter addressed to the Minister of Justice of Albania, Mr Eduard Halimi.
The Commissioner is concerned by the low rate of approved requests for free legal aid by the State Commission for Legal Aid. He stressed that the procedure to obtain free legal aid should be simplified as regards applicants who are not social care beneficiaries so as to enable them to fully enjoy their right of access to justice. The Commissioner urged the authorities to provide adequate financial resources for awareness-raising campaigns about availability of free legal aid.
Another issue of concern is the complicated process of selection of legal aid lawyers. "Very restrictive selection criteria limit the number of lawyers, which is currently inadequate to ensure appropriate legal aid. Transparency in the selection process should be enhanced and lawyers' fees should not be excessive in order to facilitate effective access to courts by persons who are in economically weak situation".
Commissioner Muižnieks also sees the current system of court fees in civil proceedings as a potential obstacle to accessing justice. "Having to pay in advance 3% of the value of a claim in civil disputes and 3% of the value adjudicated by a court to have a judgment enforced could be a disproportionate measure which excessively limits access to courts. Due to this system some persons have been prevented from pursuing their rights in civil proceedings because of economic difficulties."
"Access to justice and a fair hearing are an essential feature of any democratic society. The Albanian authorities should ensure that the country's system of legal aid and legal advice effectively helps people in a fragile economic or social situation to enjoy their human rights."