x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Abu Dhabi courts launch country’s first legal aid system

Lawyers will be paid by the judicial department to represent people who cannot afford one, replacing the existing system in which lawyers volunteer to act for clients and waive their fees.

ABU DHABI // Courts in Abu Dhabi are to introduce the country’s first legal aid system.

Lawyers will be paid by the judicial department to represent people who cannot afford one, replacing the existing system in which lawyers volunteer to act for clients and waive their fees.

The new system applies to both civil and criminal cases, but is expected to operate mainly in personal civil lawsuits.

People accused of serious criminal offences, and who are not legally represented, will continue to have a lawyer appointed by the court.

Under the new scheme the judicial department will pay legal fees to law firms that sign contracts committing them to a minimum of 20 cases a year.

“The lawyers will have to handle the case through all stages of trial until the verdict is final,” said Khamees Al Kubaissy, head of the lawyers’ affairs department.

The department has signed contracts with two law firms which will come into effect from November 4, and “more contracts will be signed soon,” said Mr Al Kubaissy.

The head of the judicial department’s communications unit, Mohammed Abu Saidan, said the initiative by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, was unique.

“For a court to pay out of its own budget for contracts and do tenders with law firms to help litigants has not been done before.”

Procedures for those seeking help will not change. Applicants must approach the legal assistance department and prove they cannot afford a lawyer and have a serious and reasonable legal claim. Applications will be responded to within 48 hours.

Since 2011, 451 cases have been assigned lawyers.

Free legal advice remains available to everyone, not only those with a limited income. Since 2011, 8,035 people have benefited from the legal assistance section.

Recently, prisoners too have been benefiting from the section’s advice, with counsellors making prison visits every week.

“Before the inmate had to come with a policeman to us,” Mr Al Kubaissy said. “But we are not a courtroom – he should not have to come to us, he is asking for our help so we should go to him.”

hdajani@thenational.ae