Lawyers don’t come cheap, and sometimes the people who need them most cannot afford to pay.
All that is about to change as the courts in Abu Dhabi plan to introduce the country’s first legal aid system on Monday. The announcement marks the latest move in the UAE’s judicial transformation.
As The National reported yesterday, lawyers will be paid by the judicial department to represent defendants who cannot afford representation. This system will replace the existing one in which lawyers offer free services to clients. Every year, a large number of people with limited ability to pay legal fees rely on those volunteers to help them seek justice.
The biggest problem with the current system is that the number of those requiring help far exceeds the number of those volunteers.
That’s why the latest move is so important. As per the scheme – which applies to both civil and criminal cases – the judicial department will pay legal fees to law firms that sign contracts, committing them to a minimum of 20 cases per year.
Even though legal provisions like this are available in most developed countries, it’s among the first such facilities to be offered in this region. More importantly, however, this move is crucial to supporting access to justice for all, an essential element of the modern society that Sheikh Zayed envisioned.
The initiative comes close on the heels of the introduction of a raft of other reform measures.
Last month, for instance, the UAE Cabinet approved the amendment to the 1992 Civil Procedure Code as part of an effort to speed up court proceedings and make information more accessible to all parties.
Other reforms, such as the proposed bankruptcy law – which is expected to allow borrowers to restructure their debts rather than face prison – are likely to be introduced in the near future.
At the same time, attention is also being paid to increased transparency and further engagement.
That was evident when the Dubai Courts launched a campaign in August to increase public awareness of the country’s legal system via monthly tours and outreach programmes with the community.
But it is the legal aid announcement that is the most important to date, bringing representation to those who can least afford it and most in need.