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Formation of national legal aid system urged

‘Most people who are not represented by lawyer do not have the financial means to hire one’

By Dana Al Emam - Aug 20,2017 - Last updated at Aug 20,2017

AMMAN — The absence of a sustainable national legal aid system to represent the financially challenged enhances their vulnerability and threatens the social security, according to a legal aid expert.

This system should be established by the government and supported by concerned civil society organisations, Hadeel Abdel Aziz, executive director of Justice Centre for Legal Aid (JCLA), told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

A study conducted by the centre in 2012 found that nearly 40 per cent of people who are not represented by lawyers in courts do not have the financial capability to hire one.

The study also showed that at least 17,000 individuals with monthly incomes that do not exceed JD250 need legal aid services annually. 

“Poverty is not supposed to be an obstacle for people to practise their right to legal representation and legal protection,” she said.

Despite their importance in providing people in need with the right to legal defence, legal aid services are generally are not “attractive” to the private sector due to “the lack of immediate visibility of impact”, she said.

Meanwhile, those who do not get fair legal representation, mainly due to financial incapability and fragile living conditions, are likely to develop a feeling of social injustice and to lose trust in the rule of law, Abdel Aziz added.

People under this category can be an easy prey for extremist groups, she noted.  

The recent amendments to Article 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure state that, in cases of crimes punishable by death, life imprisonment or hard labour for 10 years or more, a defence lawyer must be present to represent the defendant at each trial session.

Abdel Aziz described this amendment as the state’s acknowledgment of the importance of legal aid services and a step towards systemising these services.

Nearly 80 per cent of recipients of the centre’s services are Jordanians, and between 60 and 70 per cent of them are financially challenged women, with humble educational backgrounds.

“The JCLA provides legal representation and consultation services to the most fragile segments of society, mainly women, juveniles, migrant workers and refugees,” she noted, underlining a comprehensive eligibility criteria for legal representation to ensure services benefit the ones most in need.

The centre provides legal representation and awareness-raising services in clinics across all governorates. The centre handles some 2,000 to 2,200 cases of legal representation annually, and offers consultations to almost twice that number, Abdel Aziz said.

 

It also delivers some 1,600 awareness lectures annually, in partnership with several governmental and non-governmental partners, she noted, adding that the centre has nearly 90 employees, consultant and trainee lawyers, with administrative expenses not exceeding 20 per cent of the JD1.5 million annual budget.

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