Lawyers on hand – at a distance: accessing justice during a pandemic
As a spike in legal problems presents itself as another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, a legal aid centre funded by UNMIK has found innovative ways to help people in urgent need of legal advice.
Kosovo Law Institute’s Free Legal Aid Center coordinator Yll Zekaj said the centre’s team of lawyers had continued to offer legal aid while working from home during the lockdown.
“People were given the same opportunities to contact the lawyers and – thanks to technology – receive the same as they would in-person.”
Innovative legal counsel – at a distance
Through a Kosovo-wide intensive television and social media awareness campaign on platforms including YouTube, Facebook, the centre’s website and a toll-free phone number, the centre has continued to inform people of their rights and how they can access legal support during the lockdown. More than 100 people have reached out to the centre seeking advice, counseling and help on various legal matters during this period.
The centre has also featured in three live shows on KTV television in April and May, enabling viewers to call in and directly seek free advice on legal matters that had arisen as a result of the pandemic. Mr Zekaj said the pandemic had thrown up some specific problems, including how to access justice from lockdown and how to contact police, amongst others.
Lockdown legal concerns: domestic violence and social assistance
Cases of domestic violence and queries on entitlement to social grants were the two most prevalent legal issues people requested help with during the lockdown, he said.
A mother-of-three and survivor of domestic violence, who feared the return of her husband because a protection order measure was due to expire during the pandemic, asked for help from the Legal Aid Centre.
“I didn’t feel calm and I was really worried” she said, explaining that her attempts to directly contact the court failed as they were working with limited capacities.
One of the center’s 13 lawyers, Arrita Rezniqi was appointed to represent her and drafted a request to the court, managing to get the protection order extended.
“It was very effective, and it helped me very much and gave me reassurance to continue to be free and sleep peacefully during the pandemic at my house, without fearing anything or feeling under pressure.”
‘Vital service’: free legal aid during COVID-19
The centre, which became operational in March 2019 with funding from UNMIK, is mandated to provide free legal aid to vulnerable groups, specifically women, pensioners, and minority communities, ensuring people are able to exercise their legal rights.
While the centre has been also helping others with urgent legal matters during lockdown, UNMIK Justice Section Chief Andrea Lako said the pandemic had provided a lifeline to clients – many of whom had nowhere else to turn.
“Accessing justice can be confusing and too costly for many people, particularly those from vulnerable groups. This centre has performed a vital service, especially as things have become more confusing under lockdown.”
Mr. Zekaj said other specific requests during the lockdown related to issues of social assistance, protection of prisoner’s rights, labour law and employee rights. In some cases, parties sought legal assistance for cases that were pending in the courts, with the centre directly obtaining the necessary information.
The centre responds to legal inquiries registered online and via phone.
Free Legal Aid Centre contact information:
Web page: https://ndihmajuridikeikd.org/
Phone: 0800 22222 (calls are free)
Location: Kosovo Law Institute (Legal Aid Center), St. Rrustem Statovci, Entry I, no. 1 and Z3-S4. no.1, Pristina.