The new law on free legal aid, NN 143/13, which entered into force on 1st January 2014, has expanded the scope of legal advice in all areas of the law. Nevertheless, the free legal aid system is still not in force in Croatia.
Proof of this is the fact that the tender has been issued five months later than the official deadline. In 2014, funds of 1,500,000.00 Kn were allocated for the provision of primary legal aid, which were distributed to 17 civil society organisations (in amounts varying from 50,000.00 Kn to 145,000.00 Kn), while the stipulated funds, in the mid-August are still not paid .
Unquestionably, it can be determined that the amount allocated is a small amount of money which cannot possibly cover the costs of providing free legal aid for the expected 12 month lifetime of the project.
Since international organisations do not finance the provision of free legal assistance, which is why Croatia has its own law dealing with its supply, most of the associations have met difficulties in providing free legal assistance. For example, some of them have had to remove field missions from the scope of their activities.
Under the new law, some of the providers of legal aid are the State Administration Offices in counties that do not have sufficient capacity or expertise. Consequently, they often send clients to the associations, which, however, have not yet started with the implementation of the project because the funds have not yet been distributed by the Government.
Furthermore, the new free legal aid system envisages the insertion of users’ data in the database of the Ministry of Justice. However, the Ministry has either not yet provided training on how to use the database, or have not trained the organisations which have access to it on how to use it.
As a result, it is difficult, and in some cases impossible, for organizations to provide free legal aid; while citizens, especially those in rural areas, remain deprived of their fundamental rights.
Consequently, it can be concluded that Croatia has still no effective legal aid system.
In conclusion, it should be emphasised that it is doubtful whether in 2015 the tender will be completed within the legally prescribed deadline.
A number of civil society organisations submitted a proposal for a new law. The proposal pointed out the necessity of maintaining the provision of legal aid, suggested that new call for tenders should be announced by the end of the year, and that project implementation should start from the 1st January.
The above proposal was rejected. The Committee for Legal Aid pointed out once again the necessity of a call for tender within the statutory period because users with interruption of continuity of legal assistance are losing their rights.
At the same time it is necessary to provide funds that cover the real costs of providing free legal aid.
Member of the Committee for free legal aid