Third local network meeting in Croatia
The third CSO meeting in Croatia focused on providing free primary legal aid, as a crucial part of victim support system. Although a free legal aid system is established in order to enable socially and economically vulnerable category of citizens to access professional legal assistance in order to achieve effective legal protection and access to court and other public bodies under equal conditions, there are some concerns related to it.
Registered non-state legal aid provides (CSOs and other associations) are able to provide legal aid according to the law and they work all across Croatia and some of them focus on different vulnerable groups (eg. victims of violence, women, refuges). They face challenges in financing their work, most of which do not arise out of the legislative framework that regulates legal aid, but out of the manner in which it is implemented in practice. One of the concerns is the financing of providers, that is project based and often not sufficient and the calls for funding are late. Also, in many parts of Croatia there are no associations that provide primary legal aid. The associations try to deal with this problem by going out and organizing mobile teams, but they are often unable to conduct such activities due to a lack of financial resources. This deprives many citizens in rural and remote parts of Croatia of the opportunity to access legal aid. The next issue concerns public knowledge of the existence of legal aid – most citizens are unaware that such a mechanism exists. For this reason, a large number of citizens do not use legal aid because they are unaware of the fact that such a protection mechanism exists despite the fact that the number of people who need free legal counseling is on the rise, which is in keeping with the socio-economic situation in the country – high unemployment and poverty risk rate. Therefore, the CSOs gathered at this meeting concluded that more advocacy and constructive dialogue with institutions are needed.