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Call to extend free legal aid to civil cases

posted on 09/08/2009: 4253 views

Legal practitioners in the UAE are urging the authorities to establish a scheme, which can extend legal aid to those who cannot afford costly legal services.

Lawyers speaking to Emirates Business said the number of litigation cases they are handling have increased significantly over the last few months due to the slump in economy, which has fuelled breaches of contract. Most of the clients however – either individual or corporate – are having a hard time in pursuing these cases.

KK Sarachandra Bose, Partner and Corporate, Commercial and Contract Lawyer at Dar Al Adalah Advocates & Legal Consultants, said most of the clients do not have enough cash to push the cases.

"This is the time to have more pro-bono lawyers," he said. Bose said he has not yet seen the government assisting pro-bono lawyers, and this is making it difficult for such to further their advocacy. "Considering the high costs to maintain a law firm in the UAE, it is not easy for any lawyer to offer pro-bono service to many clients. For this, I would suggest the government agencies should come forward and support the pro-bono lawyers in different ways," he said.

"Many lawyers including me are ready to do free services to deserving clients provided some basic costs such as translation and attestation, photocopying, among others are met with," he added.

In the UAE, however, pro-bono lawyering is not yet a developed culture. "What we have is a legal aid in the criminal serious-cases where the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the defender," Salem Salem Al Shaali, General Manager of Al Shaali & Co Advocate and Legal Consultants.

In civil cases, Al Shaali said the plaintiff may ask a pardon from the litigation fee and this will be temporary according to the case result. This fee had to be paid back to the court by the plaintiff if he lost the case or by the respondent if the plaintiff wins the case.

Stephen Ballantine, a senior legal consultant with Galadari & Associates' Dubai office, said the provision of quality and effective legal services pro bono must be on a voluntary basis.

"Certainly, in other countries government assistance – usually financed by taxation – is given to fund/provide free representation in some types of litigation. The most obvious being criminal cases," he said.

"I can't, however, see any government being too quick to fund the litigation of a purchaser of a multi-million dirham property who has a dispute over delivery dates with a developer – notwithstanding how meritorious the purchaser's case may be," Ballantine added.

Currently the only pro-bono scheme in the region is found in DIFC Courts. But it only covers matters related to DIFC. "We work closely with other courts… and to the extent where any courts would want to establish a pro-bono scheme, we'd be delighted to help," Mark Beer, registrar of DIFC Courts said.

"I would suggest that we implement the DIFC pro-bono scheme; we'll see how it works out and if it works well then I am sure it will be adopted." Another option is the establishment of a Public Defender's Office where persons of limited means will have access to legal representation in serious criminal cases, Ballantine said.

The establishment of a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Dubai can also help people on more modest incomes obtain access to legal services for personal matters, he added. "I understand that the CAB receives support from both the public and private sectors. I am sure that such an initiative would be well-supported by the local legal community. I would certainly volunteer to help get the initiative up and running," he said. – Emirates Business 24|7


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