Legal Aid Offices Help Get Families' Lives Back on Track
The majority of litigants facing family disputes are women and children, mostly from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Divorced women in particular suffer to earn the right of guardianship and alimony. Many of them fear the prospect of resorting to lawyers and going to courts and view it as an unpleasant and best-avoided experience and accordingly, give-up the pursuit of their rights.
Family well-being is a priority, not only at the societal level, but at the legislative level. The Ministry of Justice aims to ease the burden for litigants at Family Courts through facilitating litigation procedures and establishing Legal Aid Offices to provide free legal counsel for those dealing with family courts, in order to achieve appropriate legal settlement between conflicting parties.
- UNDP contributed to increasing legal access of the poor, especially women, through the establishment of 10 legal aid offices within family courts in 5 governorates benefiting more than 20,600 persons.
- The Ministry of Justice and UNDP jointly agreed to extend the project with a view to: upscale the implementation of Legal Aid Offices and upgrading of Dispute Settlement Offices in at least three additional Family Courts.
Amina is a divorced woman and mother of one daughter. Her husband has not been meeting his obligations.
“I had a lot of trouble to transfer my daughter to a nearby school in order to save time and money,” says Amina. “Following my divorce, I moved to live in my parent’s house, 20 kilometers away from my daughter’s school. We had a hard time travelling back and forth on a daily basis.”
The school principal asked for formal proof of guardianship, which Amina did not possess. Amina had tried several times to obtain her former husband’s approval to transfer her daughter but failed. She was too afraid to resort to courts because of the stories she had heard about divorced women suffering to get their legal rights. She couldn’t afford most lawyers and got conflicting advice from friends and acquaintances.
“I had to act fast because the grace period to transfer my daughter had nearly ended,” explains Amina. “I finally went to the Family Court seeking advice. They referred me to the Legal Aid Office.”
Worried about the cost of service would cost, the willingness and ability of Legal Aid Office to assist in her case and about lengthy legal proceedings Amina approached the office with much fear.
She explained to the female lawyer who received her cordially the story of her suffering to obtain proof of guardianship to transfer her daughter. The lawyer reassured Amina that there were means to obtain proof of guardianship following specific procedures through the settlement office and confirmed that her services were free of charge. For Amina, it was smooth sailing from there.
A request was filed to the head of family court who issued an order to summon the former husband who didn’t appear before the court and hence the Legal Assistance Office commenced with the proceedings to raise a legal suit to prove Amina’s guardianship after providing the necessary documents. The remainder of the process was rapidly completed through the new computerized system that the court had installed.
Legal Assistance Officers prepared a petition and raised it before the Beni Sweif Family Court, which confirmed Amina’s guardianship over her daughter. She received the necessary documentation from the Legal Aid Office and the school principal finally transferred her daughter.
“All the procedures were completed within a very short period of time and without any cost,” says Amina. “Had I known this from the beginning I would have resorted to the Legal Assistance Office from the start. I do advise anyone having family problems to make this office their first stop.”
The Legal Aid Offices are the fruit of cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and UNDP. They provide advice and simplified information on means to settle family conflicts, whether amicably or through litigation. Since their establishment in 2009, Legal Aid Offices have assisted over 20,000 cases in four Family Courts.
The Ministry of Justice and UNDP jointly agreed to extend the project, focusing on scaling-up the implementation of Legal Aid Offices and upgrading of Dispute Settlement Offices in at least three additional courts.
With a total budget of US$ 615,000, the project also helps enhance institutional capacities of Family Courts, identifying international and comparative experiences to enhance their performance. Additionally it ensures enhanced access to justice employing Information and communication technologies to simplify procedures.