For 4 years: 8,000 free legal consultations, 600 of them on domestic violence cases

04-04-2024 15:22

Mobile teams of lawyers and Roma mediators provided more than 8,000 free legal consultations to people below the poverty line, 600 of them related to domestic violence issues and more than 500 of them were for women and children. This is only part of the summary of the work carried out in the districts of Stara Zagora, Veliko Tarnovo and Varna under the project of the National Legal Aid Bureau (NLAB), funded by the Norwegian Financial Mechanism (NFM) 2014-2021.

A particular focus of the project, which lasted 4 years, was the entry of lawyers and Roma mediators into Roma neighbourhoods and counselling of victims on the spot. The community started to become sensitive to the problem of domestic violence, the unthinkable happened – women became courageous to share about it, Roma mediators working in the three districts were explicit. Thanks to legal advice, many mothers were able to reunite with their children, the mediators said. "When parents who are not married separate, in many cases the children stay with the fathers and are raised by the grandmothers. This is hard and unfair for both the children and their mothers," said Roma mediator Atanas Atanasov.

The project has trained 300 lawyers in a programme on protection from domestic violence and discrimination, developed jointly with the Norwegian Judicial Administration. The mobile application "Help me" has been developed, where victims can find the contacts of the institutions involved in protection from violence, said the project manager,  Dilyana Giteva, Attorney-at-Law.

The final conference today was also attended by the Head of the Programme Operator of the NFM Justice Programme Borislav Ganchev (Head of the Cabinet of the Minister of Justice), Deputy Ministers Yulia Kovacheva and Emil Dechev, the President of NLAB Nataliya Ilieva, the National Coordinator for Domestic Violence at MoI Zornitsa Shumanova, lawyers, guests from Norway. 

"I am impressed by the focus on victims of domestic violence, gender-based violence and children at risk. It is an outstanding achievement that on the ground lawyers and Roma mediators together provide legal assistance to victims. This is an example of cooperation between government, NGOs and the legal profession," said Borislav Ganchev.

"You have taken on the difficult task of solving problems that have existed for a long time, this is Sisyphean work that will last a long time," Deputy Minister Dechev noted and admitted that the big challenge is to continue this work. 

Nataliya Ilieva identified the MoJ, MoI, Bar Associations Memorandum of Cooperation signed last March as a key instrument at the national level. Under the agreement, legal aid is now provided on the ground in 22 regional centres.

Providing assistance to those in need on the ground is crucial for access to justice," said Nika van de Berg, project coordinator from the Norwegian Judicial Administration.

During the conference, the idea was born to propose that the state should establish a national network of Roma legal mediators so that there would be one in all 28 municipalities.