Final conference: Legal assistance for vulnerable groups provided by NGOs

On the 26th of September, Citizens Watch and the Institute of Law named after Prince P.G. Oldenburgsky hosted a conference “The potential of non-governmental organisations in providing free legal assistance to vulnerable groups“ in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Elena Shakhova, Chair of Citizens Watch, presented the results of the research on practices in free legal assistance by NGOs in the Northwest of Russia, followed by the discussion on how to properly communicate with ‘difficult’ clients. 

Arkady Gutnikov, Director of the Institute of Law, talked about the challenges related to the adoption of unified standards for free legal aid provided by NGOs. According to him, NGOs are in a very comfortable position, as there is no law concerning legal aid by NGOs and therefore no liability for unskilled work. Many agreed that standards need to be developed in a joint effort and, on the other hand, it is necessary to take into account regional specifics.

The participants suggested various recommendations for NGOs providing free legal aid. The discussion included such issues as confidentiality of clients’ information, a strategic approach to cases where confidentiality is impossible, free legal aid, and the work of lawyers employed by NGOs.

Ella Polyakova, Chair of Soldiers‘ Mothers St. Petersburg , shared her views on legal assistance and the experience of running training programmes on human rights for recruits and their parents.

Another subject of discussion was access to justice for people with low-income. NGOs often can’t afford paying for an additional expertise in their client’s cases. This leads to a situation in which neither the client nor the organization are able to pay and the case is dropped by the courts. The participants emphasized that it was necessary to create a special fund for poor people with the help of fundraising strategies, in addition to those already developed by NGOs.

The conference concluded the first stage of the project on raising the competence of non-profit organizations in providing free legal aid.