November 01, 2014

National Representatives Discuss Legal Aid and Bar Association Capacity in the Balkans


November 2014

In October, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) convened two working groups of the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN) to discuss legal aid and ex officio defense, and bar association capacity development, respectively. A total of 18 lawyers and civil society representatives from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia participated in the meetings of their respective working groups to identify challenges and collaboration opportunities.

Participants discussed weaknesses in the legal aid systems of the region as a whole and within each country of the region, including lack of representation for vulnerable groups. 

Nine members from the Legal Aid and Ex Officio Defense Working Group, which works to improve the selection and appointment of competent advocates in ex officio cases, met in Mt. Johorina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from October 3–4. Participants discussed weaknesses in the legal aid systems of the region as a whole and within each country of the region, including lack of representation for vulnerable groups. They also designed projects to address the greatest challenges in legal aid, which will be implemented in the coming year with BRRLN’s financial assistance. Plans include conducting a regional review of the ex officio appointment systems—focusing on the competence, selection and payment of advocates—in the BRRLN’s five countries, and developing recommendations for best practices. Working group members continue to hone the project ideas, and they will develop implementation plans over the next couple of months.

From October 17–18, nine members of the Bar Association Capacity Development Working Group met in Prizren, Kosovo. The group works to strengthen bar associations’ ability to protect members’ interests and to bolster cooperation among bar associations around issues related to larger independence, diversity in the profession and ensuring equality of arms in justice systems. The working group members, some of whom represent their national bar associations, are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding in early 2015 to establish a framework for formal cooperation among the bar associations in the BRRLN countries. Participants said that the framework will increase the capacity of the bar associations to cooperate on advocacy efforts and strengthen the voice of the legal profession.

The working groups that convened in October are two of the five the BRRLN established during its launching conference in May. The other three working groups’ purviews are legal training and education, criminal law, and media and public awareness.

To learn more about our work in the Balkans, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.