On June 8, the Rule of Law Initiative’s Russia office co-hosted an expert roundtable that for the first time brought together the central parties involved in providing civil legal aid in Russia. The inclusive nature of this roundtable was an important step towards reform of the legal aid system in Russia, a country whose body of laws - including the constitition - guarantees legal representation for its citizens in a wide range of civil cases. Unfortunately for the country’s indigent population in need of legal aid, this guarantee is not backed up by implementing legislation that specifies how civil legal aid is to be administered or funded. Without this cruical set of laws, the promise of legal representation goes unfulfilled for many Russian citizens.
The lack of legal aid in Russia persists in spite of numerous attempts in the past few years to enact reform. The ineffectiveness of these efforts points to the thorny nature of reforming Russia's legal aid system; the scope and complexity of the system, coupled with number of groups and organizations with interests in the system, makes consensus, and therefore progress, difficult to attain.
Recognizing that coordination and cooperation is central to the success of legal aid reform efforts in Russia, the co-sponsors of the expert roundtable invited representatives from all the major stakeholders in Russia's legal aid system, including government, federal and regional bar associations, other legal professional organizations, the NGO community, and international experts. These participants discussed and examined various international models for providing civil legal aid, mechanisms for quality control and eligibility criteria for clients, and most importantly, modes and methods of potential cooperation among the numerous parties.
At the close of the session, a working group with representatives of the major stakeholders was formed. This group will draft a national law on the provision of civil legal aid that will be submitted directly to the Minister of Justice. The ABA Russia office anticipates that this draft law, should it be enacted, will significantly enhance the provision of civil legal aid throughout the Russian Federation, creating a level playing field within the justice system for all citizens.