Launch of the National Legal Aid Committee - Overcoming Barriers Faced by those Needing Legal Aid

Nov 16, 2016

H.E. Ali Abu Diak, Minister of Justice; Advocate Hussein Shabaneh, Chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association; Ms Alessandra Viezzer, EU Head of Cooperation and Mr Roberto Valent, UNDP Special Representative

Ramallah, 16 November 2016 – A milestone towards the establishment of a national legal aid system was officially reached in Ramallah today with the launch and first meeting of the National Legal Aid Committee. The meeting was officially opened by H.E. Ali Abu Diak, Minister of Justice; Advocate Hussein Shabaneh, Chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association; Ms Alessandra Viezzer, Head of Cooperation at the Office of the European Union Representative and Mr Roberto Valent, UNDP Special Representative of the Administrator.

H.E. Ali Abu Diak, Minister of Justice highlighted that the establishment of the National Legal Aid Committee will support the formulation of a national strategy to provide legal assistance to all citizens who need legal aid to enable them to have access to courts and access to justice.  “The contributions of the members of the Commission reflect the will, seriousness and ability of all parties to cooperate in the development of an effective and sustainable legal assistance to all Palestinians”.

The State of Palestine holds the principles of equality before the law at its core, as reflected in the Palestinian Basic Law (which guarantees representation to any individual in criminal cases) and in the regulations of the Palestinian Bar Association. Without legal advice and representation many people will not know their legal rights or how to access justice. The provision of legal counsel and representation to those who cannot afford it is essential for the realization of these principles and core to guarantee rights of the poor and marginalized. 

Advocate Hussein Shabaneh, Chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association, emphasized that the Bar Association has a conviction, as part of its national and social responsibility, for the need to establish a sustainable national legal aid system to serve vulnerable groups to ensure their access to justice and access to the right of defense as stipulated by the Palestinian Basic Law and international conventions acceded by the State of Palestine.

The newly established Committee will bring together institutional and civil society legal aid providers, from both the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, in an attempt to improve the quality and reach of legal aid services to vulnerable Palestinians. It will map the scope of services currently provided, scale up coordination, establish relevant eligibility criteria, and identify options for financial sustainability.

''Support to legal aid is an important component of the EU engagement in the justice sector to contribute to the development of a future democratic, transparent and accountable Palestinian State in line with the two-state solution,'' said EU Head of Cooperation Alessandra VIEZZER at the meeting. ''The right to legal assistance is nowadays understood as a prerequisite to ensure both the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal for everyone whose rights and freedoms are violated. The EU has supported the process to establish a Palestinian national legal aid mechanism for several years and is still supporting institutional and service delivery efforts to ensure access to justice for all, including vulnerable Palestinians,'' she added.

The National Legal Aid Committee will be instrumental in laying the groundwork for a unified national legal aid system, starting first with the development of a national legal aid strategy. The scope of the strategy may reach beyond criminal cases to include civil and family matters, therefore supporting the full range of rights of all Palestinians, subject to the Committee’s deliberations.

Speaking on behalf of the Sawasya programme, UNDP Special Representative Roberto Valent highlighted that this significant milestone demonstrates the justice sector’s commitment to the most vulnerable people in the Palestinian society.  “Legal aid is a precondition to accessing justice, particularly for the most vulnerable. The Sawasya programme not only supports institutions in the provision of legal aid but also builds capacities and empowers people to demand their rights,” he added.

It is worth noting that legal aid is provided in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by a range of service providers and government institutions. Most legal aid services are provided through civil society organizations and university legal clinics, which are primarily donor-funded and currently financially unsustainable. 

The National Legal Aid Committee will be established as part of the “Building a Sustainable Legal Aid System in Palestine” project, implemented under the joint UNDP / UN Women Programme “Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Justice and Security for the Palestinian People (2014 – 2017)” (“Sawasya Programme”). Sawasya is funded by the Government of Netherlands, the Swedish International Development Agency and the European Union (EU).

 

Note to the editors:

Membership of the National Legal Aid Committee includes the Palestinian Ministry of Justice (co-chair), the Palestinian Bar Association (co-chair), the High Judicial Council, the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Judge Department (Sharia’ Courts), the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, the Ministry of Social Development, Judicial Police, the Military Justice Commission, the Birzeit University (Institute of Law), the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, university legal clinic representatives, and representatives from legal aid provider networks in the West Bank and Gaza.

Contact information

Dania Darwish, Tel. +972 2 6268229 – e-mail: dania.darwish@undp.org; Shahd El-Swerki, Tel. +970 595 028 333 - e-mail: shahd.el-swerki@undp.org, http://www.ps.undp.org