NGOs Banned From Protecting Citizens in Court
NGOs Banned From Protecting Citizens in Court
Activities of NGOs have been strongly restricted since June 1st after amendments to legislation. Currently, NGOs neither have a right to serve a warrant nor to protect citizens in court. There are many NGOs that offer the citizens free legal help. A lot of victims of violations have already been assisted and a great number of cases are currently being worked on. Furthermore, the number of those who need such legal help is increasing day by day.
The Georgian Law on advocates states: “An advocate is a person with free profession who acts in accordance only with the law and the professional Ethics Code for lawyers and is a member of the Georgian Bar Association” (article 1). Article 10 states that an advocate must take an examination. Article 18 gives an advocate the right “To establish an Advocates Bureau individually or in cooperation with other private persons as an enterprise or entrepreneurial company with unlimited liabilities”.
The exams finished on May 23rd and only 55% of advocates managed to pass it. Those who failed and are not members of the Georgian Bar Association will have to stop their legal activities as lawyers. Therefore, they will have to give up the cases they are working on. Davit Managadze, an advocate with the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center said that there were gaps in the testing. “There were many gaps. The tests had double formulation. I think there was not enough time to hold the testing in an appropriate way. Even more, the new amendments to the law about advocates seriously affects the activities of those NGOs that assist the citizens with free legal aid. If they are not transformed into a new legal body, the advocates will not have a permit to participate in the preliminary investigation or the court proceedings”, states Davit Managadze.
Having passed the examination an advocate should undergo the following procedures: when the advocates receive their certificate they apply to the Bar Association, asking for membership. They pay 200 laris and within 10 days they become members of the Association. When all the procedures are completed they finally get a permit to participate in court proceedings. The type and format of the warrant is decided by the Bar Association.
According to the law on advocates, organizations that provide legal service should be transformed into entrepreneurial legal entities by June 1st. Otherwise advocates with these organizations will not have a right to participate in court proceedings.
“According to the law on the advocates, the warrant is served by the Georgian Bar Association. However, only entrepreneurial legal entities are allowed to use the warrants. Those organizations such as Ltd. or joint-stock companies will not have the same right. That means that NGOs, which play a big role in the development of the country, will be turned into outsiders”, states Temur Koridze, another advocate with the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center.
A second problem the NGOs face is with relations with donor organizations. The NGOs work on projects that are financed by donor organizations that concentrate on giving legal assistance to people. If the NGOs are not able to implement the projects they lose the funds.
Manana Kobakhidze who represents Article 42 says “According to article 18, the Advocates’ Bureaus should be established as either entrepreneurial companies with unlimited and commanding liabilities or as enterprises. The law on entrepreneurs defines their type. A union is a non-entrepreneurial legal entity, the activities of which are regulated by the Civil Code and not the laws about entrepreneurs. When a union carries out legal service, it contradicts the law on the advocates. A union is a non-entrepreneurial legal entity and its service is free of charge. We pay our advocates from the project costs. The Advocates Bureau is an entrepreneurial legal person and is obliged to pay all the bills that are set by the Taxation Code”.
NGOs and advocates see a way out in further amendments to the law. They urge that organizations that protect human rights should be given a right to implement legal activities and participate in legal proceedings both in civil and criminal cases.
Manana Kobakhidze is worried because of the possibility of losing donor organizations. Since NGOs have been banned from providing a legal service, some people were refused help. She pointed out that because of the new law those who will suffer the most are socially excluded people.
Another way out of the situation is the creation of an Advocates’ Union which will sign an agreement with NGOs. However, this union will remain an independent subject, not being within the project.
The NGOs plan to hold a meeting with the Parliamentary Legal Committee to discuss the issues mentioned above. They believe the problem is solvable.
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