BLOG: In Egypt, poor people get free legal aid

 A Legal Aid Office Specialist providing assistance to Marwa, a young mother of two who has come to the Legal Aid Office in the Heliopolis Family Court to seek help with custody over her children. UNDP/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

By: Ignacio Artaza; UNDP Country Director

Every year about one million cases are filed in Family Courts across the country to seek justice on issues that range from domestic violence and custody disputes to alimony and inheritance litigation.  Close to 80 percent are filed by women.  Since 2008, UNDP has worked with the Ministry of Justice to provide free legal advice to poor people to resolve legal disputes and overcome bureaucratic barriers.  To-date, 35 Legal Aid Offices have been opened in ten governorates.  They handle all such family cases that do not require the hiring of an attorney, which most poor and vulnerable people cannot afford.

Today we met Marwa (not her real name), a young mother of two who has come to the Legal Aid Office in the Heliopolis Family Court to seek help with custody over her children.  She heard about free legal assistance through Facebook and is pleased to see that the team is friendly and ready to support her with her claim.

Another woman came to file a case against her husband for violence and abuse.  “Her case is typical of many vulnerable women, often poor and illiterate, who come here to seek help”, said Nesrine Hossam El-Din, the Legal Specialist at the office.  In such cases, women face enormous difficulties to complete the necessary paperwork.  The Legal Aid Office provides such assistance, as well as legal advice concerning their rights and claims. In this respect, they have proven to be a valuable system to empower women and poor people to access their legal rights.

This year, court rulings will be linked and automated to expedite the processing of alimony payments to women and children, through the social bank designated for handling such matters.

The programme’s successes go beyond problem-solving for individuals and families by influencing lawmakers to introduce amendments in the law to facilitate the processing and speedy resolution of cases.  In parallel, UNDP is training judges to combat domestic violence and curb this phenomenon through the proper handling of cases in Family Courts.

Owing to its achievements, the Government has committed to replicate this model and scale it up nationally to maximize its reach.  With the support of the Swedish International Development Agency, UNDP is aiming to increase the scope of the programme to allow poor Egyptians benefit from free services that make a positive contribution to their lives.

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