Sustainable Legal Aid System Bill out for consultation

Minister Blok (Security and Justice) opened the consultation of the Sustainable Legal Aid System Bill. The bill adjusts the system of state-funded legal aid – also referred to as subsidised legal aid – by implementing a set of measures, including an expansion of the remit of the Legal Services Counter and improvements to the quality of the provision of legal aid within the system.

The government in 2016 announced that it would be implementing measures in response to the Wolfsen Committee report “Reviewing legal aid – Towards a more sustainable system of subsidised legal aid”. The key finding of the Wolfsen Committee is that the subsidised legal aid system has achieved the objective it was created for: it ensures that less prosperous citizens have sufficient access to legal remedies. However, the system can be made to work more efficiently. The government also took to heart the recommendations on the legal aid system submitted by the Barkhuysen Committee set up by the Netherlands Bar Association.
Litigants that are unable to pay the full costs associated with engaging a lawyer or mediator but do require aid to solve their legal problems and disputes must be able to rely on subsidised legal aid. Not all problems or disputes need to be solved by the courts, though. Under the new system, the litigant will receive the legal - or other - aid most befitting their problems and most closely aligned to their actual needs.

Additional legal assistance

The introduction of the possibility to provide “additional legal assistance” when the litigant first seeks help allows the Legal Services Counter to process less complex cases itself, without a lawyer or mediator needing to be assigned. This may concern acting as the litigant’s representative, for instance when writing a letter on the litigant’s behalf or having telephone contact with third parties. The Legal Services Counter will not, however, act on behalf of the litigant in court.

The assistance provided to persons faced with a combination of problems will improve by referring them to the proper bodies at an early stage. Currently, appeals for subsidised legal aid are often made multiple times a year in cases involving multiple issues. A more effective solution to the – underlying – problems may be found in referring the litigant to another body, like the municipal social councillor. The Legal Services Board will cooperate more closely with other bodies to realise this.