Draft Law on Free Legal Aid limits right to access to justice

Draft Law on Free Legal Aid limits right to access to justice

Announcement for public

Undersigned civil society organizations express their concern over decisions stated in the Draft Law on Free Legal Aid, which can directly affect the right to effective and equal access to justice for all persons in need of this aid.  

Owing to the fact that the enactment of the Draft Law on Free Legal Aid has been pending for over 12 years, during which legal experts and lawyers contracted in civil society organizations provided free legal aid, and some of them were members of the working group that designed Draft Law in 2015, there is a significant descrepancy between current decisions and the decisions proposed by the existing free legal aid providers, based on their long-winded experience.

Even though the Ministry of Justice announced that at the time when the latest Draft of the Law was published with certain modifications and edits in accordance with the remarks that were noted to them, crucial objections and remarks that the undersigned organizations brought up, were not recognized, even though they have been providing free legal aid for decades.

This primarily relates to limited possibilities of providing legal aid by legal experts and lawyers contracted in citizens’ associations that have been providing this service due to lack of adequate law in the past 20 years. Draft Law limits citizens’ association to provide free legal aid only based on the provisions of the Law on Asylum and the Law on Discrimination Prohibition, while disregarding other Laws, such as the Law on Public Information and Media, that also gives this option to citizens’ association.

Draft Law brings confusion into existing legal solutions with a very vague provision that prescribes that on behalf of the associations who are entitled by the Law to provide free legal aid, this aid is provided by the lawyers. We stress that the Law on Civil Procedure prescribes that the legal representative of a party can be a lawyer, a relative, a spouse, a representative of free legal aid within the local self-government unit, or attorney at law when representing the legal entity where one is employed, and a representative of a trade union. Therefore, the smallest number of services of free legal aid are court representations or representations in front of state authorities, while the biggest number are free legal advice and brief writing.  

Is Serbia wealthy enough to afford lawyers providing all types of free legal aid – from legal advice to representation in court, and will the lawyers be able to meet all the needs of the legal aid seekers? Instead of the country assigning responsibility for providing free legal aid to all the interested stakeholders in an effort to leverage efforts in the best interest of citizens of Serbia, the Ministry of Justice presents the Draft Law which will not be economically sustainable, if adoped.

The Draft Law implements direct discrimination against specific service providers – lawyers, with regard to position they are hired or contracted at. It is unclear why a lawyer, employed in local self-government is allowed not only to provide free legal aid, but to bring a Decision granting a person the right to free legal aid, while the same responsibility is not allowed for a lawyer employed in the Center for Social Work, the Court, Prosecutor’s Office or the Association of Citizens?

This is harmful to the citizens who are in need of legal aid, since the Draft Law ties the property census with the righ to free legal aid by equalizing it with the social welfare censusand the right to child allowance. This being said, all those who do not fall into this category, or some of the categories separately prescribed by the law, shall be denied this type of assistance.  

It is unacceptable that a law which aims to enable beneficial and equal access to justice for the most vulnerable groups of citizens, such as the Law on Free Legal Aid, instead of granting the rights to citizens, limits them by derogating existing legal solutions and granting the right to free legal aid to a very limited circle of persons. By doing so, it precludes civil society lawyers from doing that, despite the fact they have been doing that for years.

The undersigned civil society organizations for human rights protection are not asking for grant allocation from the budget, but for enabling civil society organizations to continue with providing free legal aid to the large groups of citizens who are in dire need of this help to secure protection and rights granted not only by the Constitution, but numerous international regulations, primarily access to justice.  


Press release signed by:

Komitet pravnika za ljudska prava – YUCOM

Građanske inicijative

Beogradski centar za ljudska prava

Centar za praktičnu politiku

Helsinški odbor za ljudska prava u Srbiji

Centar za prava deteta

Međunarodna mreža pomoći – IAN

Mreža odbora za ljudska prava u Srbiji CHRIS koju čine:

-Odbor za ljudska prava Negotin

-Odbor za ljudska prava Valjevo

-Odbor za ljudska prava Bujanovac

-Građanski Forum Novi Pazar

-Odbor za ljudska prava Niš



Centar za evropske politike – CEP

Nezavisno društvo novinara Vojvodine - NDNV


Udruženje građanki FemPlatz


A 11 - Inicijativa za ekonomska i socijalna prava

Sandžački odbor za zaštitu ljudskih prava i sloboda


Asocijacija DUGA

Centar za podršku ženama-Mreža Sos Vojvodina

Zapadnobalkanski institut

Inicijativa za razvoj i saradnju


Odbor za ljudska prava Vranje – SOS Telefon Vranje

Udruženje žena Peščanik

Centar za ljudska prava-Niš

Odbor za ljudska prava Leskovac