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NEWS

Dutch lawyers unite against cuts to legal aid

editor - February 1, 2018 - legal aid

Lawyers from across the Netherlands are getting together on February 1st in The Hague to protest against a draft bill which would significantly cut funds to the country's legal aid system.

The proposed cuts run against the findings of an independent ad hoc parliamentary committee, which actually found that more funds are needed. The committee had been tasked with finding ways to maintain the current legal aid system with less money. Nevertheless, the whole regime was found to be so poorly funded and "unhealthy" that the committee reached the opposite conclusion and recommended financing measures worth over €100 million.

Lawyers protesting against cuts to legal aid in The Hague.

The draft bill follows previous calls from the Dutch Minister of Justice to reduce funds for legal aid, especially in terms of the remuneration for the legal aid lawyers. In 2017, the Minister was reported to have said that he would pursue cuts to legal aid should he fail to raise minimum sentences for certain crimes. In other words, legal aid lawyers are being punished to make it more difficult for people to get an adequate defence, as an alternative to harsher sentences.

"Legal aid lawyers work more and more for less" said Gwen Jansen, criminal defence lawyer in Amsterdam and LEAP member, who is joining the protests against the cuts.

Cuts to the legal aid system will make it more and more difficult for lawyers to adequately defend people caught up in the criminal justice system. Poor remuneration for legal aid work leads "many young lawyers [to] choose different, better paid legal jobs" said Jansen, which in turn exacerbates the lack of legal aid defenders in the country.

The quality of the defence would also be seriously affected by the cuts. In fact, law students who choose to become independent legal aid lawyers "do not have sufficient resources to pay for their legal education, which remains very expensive", said Jansen. The same applies to those students who wish to qualify through a 3-year traineeship in a legal aid law firm: in the case of trainees, the education fees are usually covered by the law firm itself; however, poor remuneration for the legal aid work does not allow the law firm to sponsor quality education for its trainees.

Dutch bar associations and civil society organisations have called people to join the demonstrations before the Higher Chamber of the Dutch Parliament in The Hague, which would be discussing the cuts on the same day.

Similar protests have been planned for 7th February in Belgium, where cuts to the legal aid system have prompted bar associations to challenge their constitutionality before the Constitutional Court.

In 2016, the European Union adopted a binding Directive on the right to legal aid, which requires member states to "take necessary measures, including with regard to funding, to ensure that [...] there is an effective legal aid system that is of an adequate quality [...]. Member states have until May 2019 to transpose the Directive into domestic law. At Fair Trials, we will closely monitor this crucial window to ensure meaningful and full transposition is carried out in every Member State and that current shortcomings are tempered in national legislation.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page. CFB iconlick to share this story on Facebook

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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