Teeven makes legal aid more effective

Anyone who has a legal dispute or problem must now be helped quickly at the beginning of the legal aid process to find the best and most efficient solution. Citizens who need help to resolve a serious legal problem and cannot reasonably pay for this themselves will continue to be granted access to the law in the future. However, not all disputes have to be or need to be resolved in court.

This is the premise of the draft legislation to amend the law on legal aid released for consultation by Secretary of State Teeven from the Ministry of Security and Justice. Under this bill, the so-called 'first-line' facility will be the starting point for litigants in the new subsidised legal aid system. This will ensure more effective use of the Legal Help Desk.

Cases will be resolved in the first instance wherever possible and then move on to the second instance - with the use of a subsidised lawyer - if necessary. Encouraging citizens' own responsibility is central to the reform of the legal aid system. They will be provided with sufficient tools to resolve their problem in an efficient way and be referred to any alternatives for the settlement of disputes that are available. Reforming the legal aid system is also necessary to keep costs under control. These have risen sharply in recent years, with such a trend eventually leading to an unaffordable system.

In a letter to the Lower House, the Secretary of State also discusses research that he had conducted into enhanced first-line legal aid in preparation for the draft legislation. In pilot studies, lawyers and staff of the Legal Help Desk held consultation sessions to test the new operating procedure in practice. This showed that a significant proportion of the cases can be resolved adequately and to the citizen's satisfaction in the first instance whereas, under present law, a lawyer would be provided additionally.

The pilot studies show that both lawyers and staff of the Legal Help Desk resolved a substantial part of the disputes at the first instance during the consultation sessions: between 23 and 39% of cases were resolved quickly in this way, which would have otherwise led to additional proceedings. The litigants appeared to be very satisfied with the legal aid given in the first instance, with both lawyers (8.2) and Legal Help Desk staff (8.6) given high marks by the litigants.

In addition to the aforementioned strengthening of first-line legal aid, a number of other measures will also be taken aimed at ensuring improved expenditure of the budget. For example, a suspect whose custody is immediately suspended and who is set free will soon no longer be assigned a lawyer regardless of income without paying a personal contribution. A suspect who is in a position to pay must bear the costs of a lawyer him/herself.

In divorce cases, the family income will be a crucial factor for the assignment of a lawyer. For indigent partners who cannot initiate divorce proceedings on their own if the more prosperous partner refuses to contribute, a safety mechanism will be provided to guarantee they have access to the law.