From the 3rd to 8th of March, representatives of partner and pilot project organizations travelled to London and Dublin in order to exchange experiences and best practices in the area of legal advice and active assistance to citizens. These events were organized by the Law Centers in Network in the UK, and the National Association of Citizen Information Service in Ireland.
In London twenty four participants had the opportunity to visit six non-governmental organizations that provide citizens with different types of information and advice, the municipality of Croydon and the Upper House of Parliament. The NGOs visited in the scope of the visits included South West London Law Centre, Croydon Citizens Advice Bureau, Age UK Croydon (services for older people), Croydon MIND (services for people with Mental Health problems), Turnaround (Young Peoples advice and counseling) as well as the London South Bank University Legal Advice Clinic. The officials of the municipality of Croydon presented the efforts undertaken by the municipal government in response to budget cuts in social benefits to vulnerable categories of the population and the way they collaborate with non-governmental organizations that provide assistance to citizens through counseling and advocacy.
On the second day the participants visited the House of the Lords, where Lord Bach, Mr. Roger Smith, expert in domestic and international aspects of legal aid, human rights and access to justice, and Mr. Matthew Smerdon from the Legal Education Foundation presented the way in which the state proposes and adopts various measures concerning social benefits and free legal aid to vulnerable categories of citizens. Another milestone was the visit to the Citizen Advice Bureau at the Royal Court of Justice, a non-governmental organization that provides advice and legal assistance on the spot.
The engagement of volunteers, who come from the ranks of distinguished international law companies, is one of the most innovative models in the field of free legal assistance in UK. The provision of information and advice in non-governmental organizations by volunteers represents a key factor of the success of organizations in the UK. Their training and supervision is organized in such a way that the potential is there for each volunteer to efficiently and quickly service the citizens.
The aim of the study visit in Dublin was to explore the model of citizens’ advice, information and assistance in the framework of the National Association of Citizens information Service. During the two days, representatives of the Association illustrated different service delivery models, methods of collecting, storing and processing data, training of staff and volunteers and evaluation of their work. In addition, the visit integrated presentations of Dublin City Centre CIS, CIB and Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) as well as Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS). Pilar Rodriguez, the Chairperson of Citizens Advice International and Manager of Citizens Advice Bureau Gibraltar also addressed the participants.
Pilot Projects and Partners visited Citizens Information Services in Dublin City Centre, Crumlin and Finglas. Mercy Law Centre and Northside Community Law Centre also hosted some of the visitors.