Ukraine President Approves Concept Paper for Improving Legal Aid

KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine President Viktor Yuschenko approved the Concept Paper on Reforming the Legal Aid System in Ukraine, taking an important step in the nation's process of improving access to justice.

Approved on June 9, the concept paper establishes the foundation of a new legal aid system, which will guarantee high standards of free legal aid delivery and provide effective access to counsel for all indigent defendants and claimants who are eligible. The new system will provide basic legal advice for free to all people living in Ukraine and will ensure legal representation for those who are detained and awaiting trial.

The concept paper sets up general principles of organization, delivery, and funding of the legal aid system in Ukraine in both criminal and noncriminal areas. It determines the scope of legal aid, defines criteria of eligibility for legal aid, provides for voluntary participation of legal professionals in the legal aid scheme funded by the state, recommends adequate funding for the legal aid system, and lays down basic principles of legal aid management.

The concept paper was developed through a partnership among the International Renaissance Foundation, Ukraine's Ministry of Justice, the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, the Ukrainian Bar Association, and the Open Society Justice Initiative, and endorsed by to the National Commission on Strengthening Democracy and Asserting the Rule of Law in Ukraine at its meeting on March 22, 2006.

Reforms contained in the concept paper will bring Ukraine's legal aid system up to standards articulated in the Constitution of Ukraine, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The reform will be implemented in the following stages: a) preliminary stage  experiments with various organizational forms of legal aid delivery; b) submission of a draft law on legal aid to the Parliament; c) establishing a legal aid management body; d) adoption of relevant by-laws; e) setting up infrastructure of primary and secondary legal aid; f) developing quality controls for legal aid services.

In the preliminary stage of the legal aid reform process, the first pilot public defender office will be opened in Kharkov, Ukraine, in June of 2006 to provide legal aid to indigent defendants and test a new model of legal aid delivery by lawyers working full time on indigent defense.