The 11th meeting of the National Co-ordination Body for the implementation of the Law on Free Legal Aid (NCB) in North Macedonia, took place in Skopje on 22 March 2023 to discuss important aspects surrounding the Free Legal Aid system in North Macedonia.
Organised in the framework of the continuous support that EU and Council of Europe are providing to improve the Free Legal Aid services for the citizens of North Macedonia, the event gathered around 40 participants from the key institutions in the field of free legal aid including the Ministry of Justice and its Regional Offices (ROs), Bar Association, lawyers, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Legal Clinics authorized for providing free legal aid. 35 employees at the Regional Offices of the Ministry of Justice had also the opportunity to follow the event remotely.
The meeting was welcomed by Anna Yeghiazaryan, Project Co-ordinator at the Council of Europe, Igor Jovanoski, Programme Manager at the EU Delegation to the Republic of North Macedonia and Vesna Nakovska, Head of the Department for Free Legal Aid at the Ministry of Justice. They stressed the importance of the National Coordination Body as an unique co-operation and inter-institutional co-ordination mechanism to ensure improved access to justice for the citizens.
Significant exchange during the meeting was dedicated to the work of the legal clinics authorised for providing free legal aid. Four representatives from the Legal Clinics in Bitola, Stip, Skopje and Tetovo had an opportunity to present their activities and share good practises with the participants. The benefits of the existence and work of the legal clinics for the legal aid system were presented and the challenges they face were identified.
The participants discussed the application in practice of the Article 13 / Paragraph 8 on how to monitor whether and to what extent the funds awarded by courts in favour of legal aid budget is reimbursed. In addition, the feasibility of establishing a single management entity that will take over the entire spectrum of competences related to free legal aid (in civil, administrative and criminal proceedings) was discussed pointing at the next steps planned within the action.
The meeting aimed also to identify potential needs of the legal aid providers and actors in the field, for further training on the application of the Law on Free Legal Aid. In particular participants discussed the access to legal aid for victims of violence against children and gender-based violence.
The National Co-ordination Body on FLA will continue its work and commitment towards achieving better co-ordination and communication among the main actors in the Free Legal Aid system in future. NCB’s capacities will continue to be further strengthened to become entirely self-sustainable in the future beyond the end of the this project. In this context, key challenges faced by the NCB in realisation of its mission were discussed. It was proposed that the Law on Free Legal Aid should provide specific legal grounds for the National Coordination Body regulating its competencies and composition.
The action “Towards a Consolidated and More Efficient Free Legal Aid (FLA) System in North Macedonia” is part from the “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Türkiye III”, a joint European Union and Council of Europe programme implemented by the Council of Europe.