Support to the Improvement of Legal Aid Practices for Access to Justice for All in Turkey

2015-09-14 15.26.07

What is the project about?

The Project aims to develop coordinated efforts for enhancing the quality of the legal aid services in Turkey as well as capacity of the attorneys, particularly addressing the needs of disadvantaged groups as well as Syrian population at southern provinces of Turkey. In addition, the Project will also address the institutional needs of Bar Associations for an effective coordinated and monitored legal aid system.

The Union of Bar Associations is the implementing partner and the Ministry of Justice General Directorate of Criminal Affairs is the cooperating partner of this project. UNDP is the implementing agency providing its relevant knowledge and expertise in facilitating the capacity building and technical know-how activities. The project is funded by the Swedish International Cooperation and Development Agency (SIDA) and UTBA.

What is the situation?

As a part of its efforts for improved access to justice, Turkey has taken considerable steps in order to raise human rights standards including introduction of legal aid services available to the poor. Under Turkish legal order, legal aid is the legal assistance provided for those who are not able to open a civil litigation due to the economic reasons. This assistance takes form of exemption from court tax, fees and expenses or of assignment of an attorney by the bar. As far as criminal cases are concerned, legal aid is an assignment of a compulsory defense attorney by the state for the suspect or accused under certain conditions. Under international documents, legal aid does not only cover legal consultation but aid of any kind at pre-trial level as well.

As a means of access to justice, legal aid is a primary issue of human rights law which concerns fundamental principles such as equality of arms and right to a fair trial. Furthermore, legal aid should not be merely seen as a service provided by Bars but it should be seen as a part of civil and criminal justice policy. Thus, the European Court of Human Rights and UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice foresee that the states have full responsibility for the operation and nature of legal aid systems. Despite the initiatives for improvement of the legal aid services in Turkey, it is addressed by both EU progress Reports as well as international and national analysis that legal aid system in Turkey need to be improved in terms of its procedures, quality and impacts on citizens.

Despite the efforts to improve the legal aid practices in Turkey, the current system is not effective and accountable enough. Not only potential users, but also lawyers, judges, prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice do not consider the current legal aid system as satisfactory and sustainable. According to a survey, which was conducted under the “UNDP Project for Impact Assessment of Judicial Reform” and sent out 79 Bar Associations in Turkey, it was concluded that attorneys practicing legal aid lack professional skills, legal training and knowledge to effectively represent defendants in criminal cases.

What is UNDP’s mission?

Access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged occupies a specific niche in UNDP’s mandate to strengthen democratic governance and promote pro-poor change. Empowering disadvantaged individuals and groups through legal aid to seek remedies for injustice can strengthen the accountability mechanisms between right holders and duty-bearers, and contribute to creating transparent, accountable and inclusive institutions. Legal aid and awareness can help disadvantaged groups and marginalized communities to seek redress for a host of situations where rights are denied or violated, such as forced evictions, forced labour without pay, arbitrary arrest or torture. Remedies for violations of such rights often require the services of lawyers and considerable expenses that discourage those who cannot afford them from seeking just remedies. Legal aid can help overcome some of these barriers.

UNDP’s special niche in the field of access to justice and strengthening of the rule of law in Turkey is to provide technical assistance on institutional capacity-building based on its global experience and technical expertise in providing country experiences in judicial systems restructuring for strengthening the rule of law, as well as capacity to embed human rights-based approaches to all fields of service delivery and acts of duty bearers. This provides the upstream level activities for judicial actors and other service providers aiming to enhance institutional and individual capacity to coach reform efforts in the field. In addition, in order to increase public awareness to have sufficient understanding of the legal arrangements and its proper application in daily life, UNDP also focuses on downstream activities in its own programming in the field of access to justice and strengthening of the rule of law in Turkey.

How are we doing this?

The Project will contribute to the activities of the Twinning Project, led by Ministry of Justice concerning the improvement of structures and legislative framework for a better functioning legal aid system in the country. The results of the Project at hand including the needs assessment exercises and recommendations on necessary legislative amendments for improved legal aid services for disadvantaged groups are expected to contribute to the possible adjustments in the system in terms of legislation and structuring. In that respect, the individual and institutional capacity enhancement activities of the Project will be critical for the effective implementation of the twinning Project as well. UTBA and Ministry of Justice General Directorate for Criminal Affairs being a partner of both projects will facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between two projects.  Besides, as partners of both Projects, UTBA and Ministry of Justice will ensure that the results of the Project at hand will be used for the referred Project.

The Project will have the following results for enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the legal aid system in Turkey: i) Improved  Automation System for Appointment of Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) Attorneys; ii) Enhanced Capacity of the Attorneys Practicing Legal Aid for Disadvantaged Groups; iii) Improved Performance Evaluation System for Legal Aid Services; iv) Enhanced Coordination and Cooperation Among the Attorneys Practicing Legal Aid; v) Legal aid needs underpinned and services improved in southern border province of Turkey such as Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Kahramanmaraş and Osmaniye.

How will Turkey benefit?

The project will pave the way for an effective functioning legal aid system and ultimately better access to justice in Turkey. It will develop coordinated efforts for enhancing the quality of the legal aid services in Turkey as well as capacity of the attorneys, particularly addressing the needs of disadvantaged groups as well as Syrian population at southern provinces of Turkey.

Thus, it will contribute to an inclusive and democratic governance, rule of law and access to justice for all, including further compliance with international commitments and human rights norms and standards addressing the institutional needs of Union of Turkish Bar Associations for an effective coordinated and monitored legal aid system.

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