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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Péril sur l’accès à la justice des plus démunis

by Laurent Mouloud

Access to justice for the most deprived in jeopardy

Translated Saturday 31 October 2015, by Adrian Jordan

Lawyers were yesterday called to strike against Legal Aid, The issue: the government reform which does not properly cover the cost of this indispensable scheme.

The legal profession and the Chancellery are at odds. After several months’ of negotiations over Legal Aid (LA), The National Bar Council, which represents French lawyers, called off talks with the ministry last Thursday, and from today, calls for members to suspend free consultations, as well as to stop assigning lawyers to perform legal work within the ambit of LA. A strike which threatens to disrupt the administration of justice: the prosecution service having previously sought the assistance of the Bar to find lawyers willing to undertake cases involving the poorest parties.

A reduction in fees

At the heart of this discontent is an Article in the 2016 Finance Act, with a provision to finance LA with a charge of 5 million euros in 2016 and 10 million euros in 2017 on the accounts for funds that lawyers manage for clients. A most unwelcome charge, which would add to the drop in remuneration already planned for Legal Aid lawyers by the justice minister, Christiane Taubira. Initiated in 1972, the principal of legal assistance, which replaced a charity based system, turned into Legal Aid in 1991. The scheme allows people with an income below 941 euros per month to have all their lawyer’s fees underwritten. A real public service program, from which lawyers make no financial gain.
The scale of remuneration is based on a base Unit of Value (UV) corresponding to 30 minutes of work. Its rate has been fixed at 22.50 euros since 2007. “Currently, for litigation in the magistrates court, we receive 508 euros. A amount which does not even cover the cost of preparative work, representation, or even office rent”, explained Florian Borg, president of lawyers’ union, Syndicat des avocats de France (SAF). “In fact, the cost of Legal Aid is offset by the rest of the firm’s activities.” What is worse is that, under the reform, the remuneration will drop further, the lawyers assert. The pay for providing duty solicitor service for 24 hours will drop from 300 euros to 181 euros. “And for cases in the magistrates court, this will drop from 508 euros to 387”, estimates Florian Borg, who wants UVs to be doubled. His fear is, basically, that many law firms, particularly in poor departments, will decide no longer to engage in Legal Aid. “You could say there is a glitch”, explains Pascal Eydoux, president of the National Bar Council. “We have told the justice minister that there is no question of the legal profession paying for the ministry’s schemes, and that is exactly what is being demanded of us. However, I am an optimistic man and I think things will be resolved in the following days.”

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