Establish directorate to improve citizens' access to legal aid (AL0070)
Action Plan: Albania Action Plan 2020-2022
Action Plan Cycle: 2020
Lead Institution: Ministry of Justice
Support Institution(s): State actors involved Other government agencies involved: Dependent Institutions (Directorate of Free Legal Aid) Non-governmental agencies involved: Civil Society Organizations; Faculty of Law, University of Tirana
Policy AreasAccess to Justice, Capacity Building, E-Government, Justice, Marginalized Communities, Open Justice, Public Participation, Public Service Delivery
What is the public problem that the commitment will address? Over the years citizens in Albania have faced significant structural and financial barriers to accessing justice including limited legal capability, limited access to legal counsel/advice, lengthy timeframes for resolutions and perceived lack of fairness in resolution. According to the 2018 Survey of the World Justice Project4, of Albanian citizens that have experienced a legal problem in the previous two years only 18% were able to access help and reported obtaining information, 48% did not know where to get advice and information, 38% said it was difficult or nearly impossible to find the money require to solve the problem and 52% did not feel the process followed was fair. Furthermore, resolutions to legal problems took on average over 2 years (28 months) to resolve.
What is the commitment? This commitment will establish a directorate dedicated to improving citizens’ access to quality legal resources state guaranteed legal aid resources. The establishment of a free legal aid directorate will be accompanied by structured multi-stakeholder and inter-institutional cooperation to continuously improve legal professional capacities, accountability and legal aid delivery in order to guaranteed citizens access to justice that is aligned with European standards and internationally recognized best practices. Objective: • Develop the necessary environment that enables and ensures citizens to be able to effectively achieve the quality support of justice they need to fully resolve their legal problems; • Inter-institutional cooperation between governmental and non-governmental institutions increases competency and accountability in the legal sector; • Citizens’ awareness of the legal system and legal aid resources available to them is improved. Expected results: 4 World Justice Project, 2018 General Population Poll survey module on legal needs and access to justice. Data collected by IDRA Research & Consulting using a nationally representative probability sample of 1000 respondents in the country https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/Albania.pdf Commitments | Access, Transparency and Accountability in Justice | Commitment 6 https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/Albania.pdf • Directorate of Free Legal Aid established to provide legal guidance and assistance to citizens lacking the resources to pay for legal support; • Improved inter-institutional cooperation and collaboration between the MoJ, legal clinics, the National Chamber of Mediators (DHKN), the Albanian Bar Association, NGOs and CSOs through the establishment of cooperation frameworks and inter-institutional forums; • Strengthened capacity of justice professional through development of systems for oh-going training and examinations for legal professionals and legal aid service providers, in collaboration with universities and other experts; • Inter-institutional forum established to continuously improve delivery of legal aid; • Increased citizen awareness and access to meditation services and support; • Increased transparency and accountability among mediators through publically available electronic records of actions.
How will the commitment contribute to solving the public problem? Efforts to increase citizen’s to access to justice have been an on-going focus of judicial reform efforts in Albania and of increasing priority. By establishing a dedicated directorate to state-guaranteed legal aid (milestone 1)the Albanian government not only aims to expand access to justice, but also accountability towards its objective of ensuring equal access to justice for all citizens. Through this initiative, citizens who do not have the financial means to pay a private lawyer and who seek to exercise their civil, political, and economic rights through the implementation of justice procedures, civil or criminal, can access free legal aid. Citizens can access legal advice, guidance and assistance towards drafting the necessary documentation, as well as representation before public administration bodies both in person and through an online platform. In order to facilitate guaranteed access to justice this commitment focuses on developing the enabling environment necessary to ensure citizens are able to efficiently access the quality justice support they need to fully resolve their legal problems. In particular, the commitment looks to strengthen the cooperation between governmental and non-governmental institutions with relevant interests and expertise. The establishment of a cooperation framework with regular technical meetings will increase collaboration between the Directorate of Free Legal Aid and relevant public institutions with civil society and legal aid providers (milestone 3). Meanwhile a dedicated inter-institutional forum for legal aid provides an on-going platform for all stakeholders to contribute to the improve of legal aid delivery such that it integrates the justice needs of all citizens, with particular attention to the needs of those in marginalized groups (milestone 4). A coordinated approach is taken so that the challenges of improving access are identified and innovative solutions can be development and implemented as most effectively and efficiently possible. Technical capacity building, through continuous trainings and examinations for justice professionals and legal aid service providers, in collaboration with universities and other experts, will be targeted to develop the specialized skillsets necessary to ensure that the specific needs of citizens requiring justice support are met. Mandatory training modules for employees of Legal Aid Service centers will be developed Working in cooperation with the Albanian Bar Association (ADB), the Albanian School of Public Administration (ASPA) and donors (milestone 2). To establish mediation procedures as an alternative mechanism for citizens to resolve legal problems, increased cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and the National Chamber of Mediators (DHKN) will be established (milestone 5) and the professional capacities of mediators will be strengthened through collaboration between the Ministry of Justice and the National Chamber of Mediators towards the development of regulations and curriculums for trainings and examinations for intermediaries (milestone 6). Finally, the commitment will expand citizen awareness of the use of mediation services to resolve legal problems legal system through public awareness campaigns(milestone 7) as well as increase transparency and accountability on the actions of mediators through an electronic database implemented by the DHKN (milestone 8). OGP challenge affected by this measures Improve public services Increase efficient management of public resources Increase public integrity Increase corporat e accountability Create a safer community for citizens & civil society ☒ ☒ ☒ ☒ ☒
Why is this commitment relevant to OGP values? Transparency & Access to Information • Does the ide a disclose more information to the public? • Does the ide a improve the quality of information disclosed to the public? • Does the ide a improve accessibility of information to the public? • Does the ide a e nable the right to information? ☒Y es ☐N o Transparency and access of citizens to information is considered one of the main points, as the flow of electr onic serv ice is intended to be fully accessible by cit izens. • Establishment of simple & non -bureaucratic mechanisms for citizens to access legal guidance & a ssistance; • Online publication of all documents relating to all aspects of action plan (e.g. training requirements, serv ices available, outcomes from forum meetings); • Campaign to raise public awareness on legal sy stem, resolv ing legal pr oblems & legal aid resources av ailable; • Training to ensure legal aid pr ofessionals pr ov ide su fficient information /guidance to citizens • Electr onic database of meditation activ ities Public Accountability • Does the ide a cre ate or improve rules, regulations, and mechanisms to publicly hold government officials answerable to the ir actions? • Does the ide a make the government accountable to the public and not solely to inte rnal syste ms? ☒Y es ☐N o • Standardized training modules, curriculum & examinations for legal aid pr ov iders; • Pu blically accessible database of mediation activ ities; • Inter -in stitutional cooperation & forum between g ov ernment inst itution s & NGOs & CSOs en sures platform for answerability and accountability to citizens; • All indepen dent in stitutions included are independent & regulated by law. • In stitution of independence of mention in the Action Plan (High Judicial Council, Sch ool of Magistrates, High Council of Prosecution, academia is inst itution s / entities of independence and tire calculation are regulated by law. Public & Civic Participation • Does the ide a cre ate or improve opportunities, or capabilities for the public to inform or influe nce de cisions? • Does the ide a cre ate or improve the e nabling e nvironme nt for civil socie ty? ☒Y es ☐N o • Im plementation of measures subject to monitoring whereby stakeh olders can requ est complete in formation • Adoption of platforms where citizens can giv e their impressions / opinions regarding the functioning of the Action Plan measures • Inter -in stitutional cooperation & forums between g ov ernment in stitution s & NGOs & CSOs enables civ il society to co-establish measures to improv e legal aid deliv ery & co-implement • Adoption of platforms where citizens can giv e feedback on the implementation of Action Plan measures The implementation of the measures will be part of the monitoring where stakeh older s can requ est complete in formation. There is r oom for improv ement in relation to the adoption of plat forms where cit izen s can giv e their impression s / opinion s regarding the functioning of the Action Plan measures. Technology & Innovation • Will te chnological innovation be used in with one of the other three OGP values to advance participation, transpare ncy or accountability? ☒Y es ☐N o • Uses online platforms to support citizens access to legal resources & in formation & guidance; • Uses electronic databases to enable public accountability & transparency relating to meditation activ ities; • Online publication of all activ ities, pr ograms & relating documents to facilitate transparency , participation & accountability
Milestone Activities Milestones Indicators Responsible Institution / s New or Continued Idea Timeframe Measurable and verifiable achievements to accomplish this meas ure Result Indicators Output Indicators Lead Responsible Institution Supporting / Coordinating Agencies / Institutions New or continued from 2018- 2020 OGP AP Start Date End Dat e Priority Measure 1: Legal aid is offered in an efficient and effective form which provides citizens in need, full access to such service Milestone 1: The primary and secon dary legal aid sy stem is fully functional and pr ov ides equal access to justice for cit izen s acr oss the country (human resources, primary legal aid offices and appropriate tools, technical capacity , etc.). Dir ectorate of Free Legal Aid is established with the mission of en suring equal access of all indiv iduals to the ju stice sy stem through the pr ov ision of legal aid guaranteed by the state. Directorate of Free Legal Aid is established, in accordance with the legislation in force. Directorate is staffed adequately with sufficient capacity to guarantee the ability to provide the services required by ci tizens. Ministry of Ju stice: Directorate of Free Legal Aid National A gency for Information Society (for electronic service) ☐N o ☐Y es (which one?) Jan. 2020 Dec. 2021 Milestone 2: Strengthening and capacity building through appr opriate First module of mandatory training of employees of the Primary Legal Ministry of Ju stice: Directorate of Free Legal Aid The National Chamber of Mediators (DHKA); School of Magistrates (for ☐N o ☐Y es (which one?) Jan. 2020 Dec. 2021 training for free legal aid serv ice prov ider s throughout country. This includes cooperation with the Albanian Bar Association (A DB) for training of lawy ers pr ov iding serv ices and cooperation with ASPA and don ors for training at legal aid serv ice centers for students of Law Clinics and authorized NGOs so that employ ees gain more in-depth knowledge regarding the system of free legal aid. Aid Service Centers developed training), Albanian School of Pu blic Administration ASPA ), Donors (United Nations Development Program, Euralius) Milestone 3: Strengthening inter -in stitutional cooperation between the Directorate of Free Legal Aid and public in stitutions, as well as with national and international in stitutions / civ il society organizations. Cooperation framework established to strengthen access to ju stice (cooperation with Courts; Pr osecution Offices; Don or s; free legal aid serv ice pr ov iders: Law Clinics at HEIs; Pr imary Legal Aid Serv ice Center s; Auth orized Non -Pr ofit Organization s and Secondary Legal Aid Lawy ers). Cooperation framework established. Regular technical meetings held with relevant institutions and civil society actors to identi fy necessary measures to be taken and identify roles and responsibilities. Ministry of Ju stice: Directorate of Free Legal Aid Cou rts; Prosecutions; Law Clinics; Primary legal aid service centers; Authorized N on-Profit Organizations and National Chamber of A dvocates (DHS) ☐N o ☐Y es (which one?) Jul. 2021 Dec. 2021 Milestone 4: Establishment of the Inter -In stitutional Forum for legal aid guaranteed by the state with the technical secretariat in the Dir ectorate of Free Legal Aid. This forum will pr ov ide an opportunity for all stakeholders inv olv ed in the process to exchange v iews / suggestion s on h ow the legal aid deliv ery Establishment of forum. Forum consists of pu blic and non-governmental organizations and citizens. Calendar for meetings for the forum established. Ministry of Ju stice: Directorate of Free Legal Aid Law Clinics; Primary legal aid service centers; Authorized N on-Profit Organizations and the National Chamber of Advocates; courts; prosecutions; ☐N o ☐Y es (which one?) Jan. 2021 Dec. 2022 pr ocess can be improv ed. The forum will be in stitutionally set up and there will be regular periodic meetings Priority Measure 2: Mediation procedure as an alternative solution mechanism, functional in practice not only in law, is efficient, and issues are resolved with the full consent and agreement of the parties Milestone 5: Increa se cooperation between the Ministry of Ju stice and the National Chamber of Mediator s (DHKN). Framework for cooperation and coordination between the Min istry of Ju stice and the National Chamber of Mediator s (DHKN) established. Ministry of Ju stice; The National Chamber of Mediators (DHKA) Jan. 2021 Dec. 2022 Milestone 6: Increa sing and improv ing the pr ofessional capacities of intermediaries through the organization of initial continuou s trainings, a s well a s training of trainers. This initiativ e will be a collaboration between the Ministry of Justice, together with the National Chamber of Mediators, Consultation tables held regarding relevant By-Laws. Regulations and curriculum for trainings and examination methods for testing mediating candidates determined. Training calendar determined and implemented. Ministry of Ju stice; The National Chamber of Mediators (DHKA) School of Magistrates; National Chamber of A dvocates (for trainings) Jan. 2020 Dec. 2021 Milestone 7: Organizing awareness campaigns for the mediation serv ice in the country . In order to raise public awareness, the National Chamber of Mediator s will organize awareness campaigns in order to in form the public on h ow to resolv e variou s legal issues thr ough mediation. Awareness campaign topics selected in coordination with contributions and collaboration with civil society partners. Awareness campaigns organized. The National Chamber of Mediators (DHKA) Jan. 2020 Dec. 2021 Milestone 8: The National Chamber of Mediators will create Design of electronic The National Chamber of Mediators (DHKA) Jan. 2021 Dec. 2021 an electr onic database in order to recor d ev ery mediator who exercises his activ ity in this field, also within the access of ev ery interested cit izen but also transparency . databases. Commissioning and use of the database.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
Commitment #6: Access to legal aid
● Verifiable: Yes
● Does it have an open government lens? Yes
● Potential for results: Substantial
(Ministry of Justice)
For a complete description of the commitment, see Commitment 6 in the action plan.
Context and objectives
While this is not the first time that an Albanian action plan addresses openness in the justice sector,  it is the first time that an action plan deals specifically with providing legal aid and mediation. The commitment seeks to improve the legal and institutional framework for providing legal aid, increase collaboration with the legal and mediator communities, and provide relevant training. The establishment of an interinstitutional forum that includes citizens, civil society groups, and government institutions to improve the delivery of legal aid is a particular milestone that ensures this commitment relates to the open government value of participation.
Some activities of this commitment stem from a law passed in 2017 guaranteeing legal aid by the state.  According to a government representative, the main purpose of that law was to ensure access to free legal aid for all Albanians, particularly marginalised and vulnerable groups.  The law defines vulnerable groups as including victims of domestic violence, sexually abused victims, minors, persons that benefit from the payment for disability, and beneficiaries of social protection programs (such as Roma and Egyptian community members).  A 2018 report by the Tirana Legal Aid Society identified that people from vulnerable groups (it highlighted the Roma community, people with disabilities, and those undergoing economic hardship) do not seek legal aid because they are unaware it exists or lack resources to access it. 
More broadly, a 2017 UNDP survey found that almost half of Albanians had unresolved legal problems because of a lack of legal awareness and an underperforming legal sector.  Since 2017, the UNDP has been working in the country to support free legal aid and promote legal awareness and empowerment.  The EU Euralius programme has also been working in Albania on consolidating the justice system, including addressing the legal framework for legal aid. 
The government had already implemented some of the milestones in this commitment before starting the co-creation process and adopting the final action plan. In any case, a lawyer from civil society who was invited to engage in the co-creation process said that he supported the activities in the commitment, particularly the creation of an interinstitutional forum as proposed by officials from the Directorate after discussion with civil society. 
Finally, before moving onto the potential for results, the IRM notes that the commitment outlines what bodies and agencies it will establish, but not necessarily the expected results or specific outcomes. This makes it difficult to establish baselines to measure progress, which is why the review established alternative measures of success when discussing the potential for results. The government could better measure success if it stated the intended results from this reform of legal aid and mediation. As explained below, this might include ensuring quality of legal aid and mediation provision, and collecting data on the number of people from marginalized groups who access legal aid or mediation.
Potential for results: Substantial
Implementation of this commitment has the potential for substantial results. Before the action plan was adopted however, the government had already implemented Milestones 1–3 on the legal framework by updating the 2017 law (and relevant bylaws between 2017–2020) by establishing the Directorate of Free Legal Aid in 2019 and legal aid service centres in collaboration with civil society organisations in 2019–2020.  The remaining milestone on establishing the interinstitutional forum is due to be implemented in 2021,  as well as Milestones 5–8, on improving institutional cooperation with mediators, building professional capacity of mediators, raising awareness of mediation, and establishing an updated register of mediators.
The projected budget to support legal aid in Albania is due to more than quadruple from around 150,000 USD in 2019, to 430,000 USD in 2020, to over 700,000 USD in 2021.  Between January–December 2020, primary legal aid providers reported 4,191 cases and the Directorate of Free Legal Aid administered 181 Judicial Decisions with secondary legal aid.  By the end of the implementation period, the increased funding should translate into a rise in the number of cases using legal aid.
The types of cases and people using legal aid is also important in assessing successful implementation. The action plan states a need to provide legal aid to marginalised groups and the legal framework explicitly includes domestic violence victims, sexually abused victims, minors, disabled persons that benefit from the payment for disability; persons who are beneficiaries of social protection programs (such asRoma and Egyptian community members). This coincides with a report from the EU, which states that legal aid (alongside other measures) is essential to ensure women’s access to justice.  These vulnerable groups are also reflected in the 2018 report by the Tirana Legal Aid Society.  An increase in the number of cases for these groups year on year, and of the number resolved in favour of the vulnerable plaintiffs, would help establish whether the changes in legal aid is leading to successful results in access to justice for marginalised and vulnerable people. Furthermore, the interinstitutional forum is an important space that could be used for including these civil society groups in improving policy and delivery of access to justice. While protecting personal data, Albanian authorities would need to collect and publish statistics to establish whether they are meeting the need to provide legal aid to marginalised and vulnerable groups, as expected by law.
Regarding the milestones in relation to mediation, the end of the action plan cycle should see a cooperation agreement between the Ministry and the National Chamber of Mediators, training of mediators on the new legal aid frameworks, an awareness campaign by the National Chamber of Mediators, and a public database of mediators. The National Chamber of Mediators website appears not to have been updated since 2016. Implementation of the action plan should see an increase in the number of mediators trained and better collaboration between institutions. A significant result would be an increase in successfully completed mediations where both parties have agreed to the outcome.
Opportunities, challenges, and recommendations during implementation
Cooperation with civil society groups and legal aid centres is a key aspect of implementing this commitment. The interinstitutional forum provides a formal space for participation, but participation should not be limited simply to this formal space. The provision and growth in the availability of legal aid is a positive step for Albania but a concerted effort to reach out and engage with marginalised and vulnerable groups would ensure that it provides access to justice for all, and not just further access to justice for those who already have access. For example, people with lesser formal education (e.g., lower earners and the Roma community) have the biggest gaps in their legal knowledge, and thus the biggest impediments in accessing justice.  Engagement with these and other vulnerable groups should raise awareness of legal aid and also ensure that they are able to participate in policy definition and implementation so that they can inform and improve access to legal aid.
There are challenges in implementing this commitment that can limit successful access to justice. The Open Society Justice Initiative has identified the quality of legal aid as being an important factor in the state provision of effective legal assistance.  The interinstitutional forum and Directorate for Free Legal Aid therefore, would need to ensure that legal aid is of high quality and that measures are put in place for users to provide feedback or complain if they are dissatisfied with services. This also applies to mediation, where building the capacity and professionalism of mediators would create greater access to justice.
Another challenge for Albanian institutions is to ensure that the increased provision of legal aid and mediation services are used by the vulnerable groups that recent legal reforms have sought specifically to address. This would mean that institutions collect, maintain, and publish statistics —while protecting personal data—on the usage of the services in a disaggregated manner to ensure that improvements can be identified and applied as implementation progresses. However, research shows that data collection needs to improve across the court system in Albania (such as by adopting common standards and processes),  and reflects a larger challenge to collecting legal aid data. The interinstitutional forum would need this kind of statistical data to both inform its work and hold institutions accountable for collecting statistics.
On a practical level, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and potential restrictions on freedom of movement may pose a challenge to raising awareness of legal aid and mediation services for marginalised or vulnerable communities. Potential unintended consequences from restrictions due to COVID-19 may also mean it is harder for individuals to access specific legal advice. Although institutional websites would be updated with relevant information, it is unclear if in-person legal aid and mediation services would be adapted for online provision or if measures would be taken to ensure access for marginalised or vulnerable groups during the pandemic. The interinstitutional forum could be asked to look at measures that do not limit access to these marginalised or vulnerable groups.
- Users of free legal aid should be provided with high quality services from service centres and other authorised providers or free legal aid. This also includes the right to provide feedback or complain if they are dissatisfied with these services. The Directorate of Free Legal Aid should ensure that complaints are taken seriously and dealt with efficiently, with feedback provided to users on any measures taken. The Directorate could target awareness-raising efforts about the ability to complain or provide feedback to marginalised groups. The process of making complaints or providing feedback should be made clear. For example, the UK government website outlines such complaint procedures in clear language. 
- The Directorate for Free Legal Aid and its subordinate agencies and bodies should establish mechanisms to collect, maintain, and publish data on the use of the various services established through this reform process. For example, the UK Ministry of Justice publishes detailed quarterly statistics on the usage of legal aid and mediation services in England and Wales online and in open format.  The statistics should be used to understand if the reforms are reaching the vulnerable groups for which it was intended. Therefore, the Directorate should publish regular progress reports that provide “next steps” for improvement and establish objectives and targets (such as the percentage increase in cases using legal aid).
- Legal Aid Services should consider how they can adapt to the post-COVID-19 situation without limiting access to marginalised groups. This may require Legal Aid Services to ensure access to services and information even if it remains necessary to limit physical access to Legal Aid Service Centres.