Law Institute of Lithuania (Leading partner) together with partners State-guaranteed Legal Aid Service, Lithuanian Bar Association, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Raad voor Rechtsbijstand (Dutch Legal Aid Board) implements the project “Enhancement of Legal Aid Quality: General Standards for Different Systems (QUAL-AID)".
The project aims to enhance the quality of legal aid services in criminal proceedings within the EU by developing common standards for legal aid provision and quality assurance/supervision and by raising capacity of legal aid policy makers, administrators and providers for ensuring high quality legal aid.
So far, there have been no attempts to systematically assess or harmonise legal aid systems applicable in different EU Member States, even though it is clear that effective right to legal aid in criminal proceedings is essential not only for complying with the fundamental access to justice and fair trial standards, but also for building confidence in the EU's single area of justice and for ensuring successful implementation of EU criminal law instruments. Diverging rules on access to legal aid may hamper the enforcement of EU minimum standards on access to a lawyer and on other procedural rights within the EU criminal justice space.
As all EU Member States have different legal aid schemes, therefore a detailed research and comparison of the three national schemes of the countries of project partners – Lithuania, Germany and the Netherlands – will be carried out during the implementation of the project. Moreover, the needs and expectations of legal aid beneficiaries and stakeholders like managers of the system, legal aid providers as well as participants of the criminal justice will be assessed. Drawing from these assessments and positive experiences in other jurisdictions, the Project will then attempt to develop common practical standards on provision of legal aid and its quality audit/supervision, with the ultimate aim of mainstreaming these standards throughout the EU. These products would directly benefit legal aid providers and supervisory bodies, which need handy, tailor-made guidelines and working methods for better provision of their services.
And lastly, the Project will allow addressing the never ending need for capacity building in legal aid quality assurance by preparing and implementing re-usable training programmes for all the major stakeholders (legal aid policy makers, administrators/supervisors and providers) in Lithuania, Germany and the Netherlands and by carrying out their widest possible dissemination throughout the EU.
This project is co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC)/ Justice Programme of the European Union and will last for two years from January 2017 to January 2019.
In the recent years, the EU has embarked on a substantial work towards achieving common minimum
standards on procedural rights in criminal proceedings to ensure that basic rights of suspects and accused are
duly protected. The Directives 2010/64/EU on interpretation and translation and 2012/13/EU on the right to
information in criminal proceedings were adopted, along with the Directive 2013/48/EU setting out minimum
standards on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and in European arrest warrant
proceedings. Furthermore, in November 2013, the European Commission presented a package of proposals to
further strengthen procedural safeguards in criminal proceedings, including a Proposal of a Directive on
provisional legal aid. These proposals are accompanied by EC Communication concerning EU Agenda on
procedural safeguards for suspected and accused persons and by two EC Recommendations on safeguards
for vulnerable persons suspected or accused in criminal proceedings, and on the right to legal aid in criminal
Despite the EU’s substantial legislative advances on procedural rights in criminal proceedings, provision of
legal aid for suspects/accused is still not regulated at the EU level. The right to legal aid is one of the core
human rights meant to enable effective access to justice and fair trial for persons who cannot afford bearing
the costs of legal representation/proceedings. This right is enshrined both in Art. 6 of the European Convention
on Human Rights and in Art. 47 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. It is clear that robust legal aid
mechanisms are indispensable for enabling successful implementation of aforementioned EU instruments on
procedural rights of suspects and accused persons.
The Directive 2013/48/EU on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings explicitly notes that it does
not regulate the issue of legal aid. The Directive on provisional legal aid for suspects or accused persons still
remains a draft proposal and it is unclear when it will be formally adopted. Moreover, it concerns merely
provisional access to a lawyer until the decision on full-scale legal aid has been taken and it benefits only
persons deprived of their liberty. The Commission Recommendation on the right to legal aid for suspects or
accused persons in criminal proceedings is currently the only document that addresses some aspects of legal
aid and aims at EU-wide convergence on some basic principles, however, it is legally non-binding, very brief
and general in nature.
The European Court of Human Rights has held on numerous occasions that the State’s obligation to provide
legal aid is not fulfilled merely by appointing a publicly funded lawyer; it must ensure that such legal aid
provided is both practical and effective. Therefore, it is necessary for the CoE states to set up mechanisms that
would ensure high quality legal aid services, promote accreditation and continuous training of legal aid
providers, as well as proper monitoring and supervision of the system.
QUAL AID is exactly aimed at addressing the aforementioned gaps by offering practical and
highly innovative solutions to these common EU challenges.