ECtHR deals with a case in which Serbian police refuses to pay a legal aid lawyer

June 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm Leave a comment

Mr Viktor Juhas Đurić is a Serbian lawyer, practicing in the town of Subotica. In May 2004 Mr. Đurić was appointed ex officio to represent a suspect  in a preliminary criminal investigation, during his questioning by the police. Consequently Mr. Đurić filed an application with the police seeking payment of 105 Euros in legal fees. The police did not bother to respond and Mr. Đurić filed a suit at the Municipal court claiming the outstanding amount. This request was granted but the higher court quashed the decision on appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Both courts reasoned that the specific claim falls within the jurisdiction of the administrative courts.

Mr. Đurić filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights alleging violation of Art. 6 – the right to access to court. ECtHR found the complaint admissible but held that there was no violation of the Convention because the applicant did not exhaust the national redress mechanisms and did not prove that indeed the claim would not have been solved if tried by an administrative court.

What is more interesting, however, is that ECtHR rejected the argument of the government of Servia that the claim is non-important because the applicant did not suffer significant disadvantage. Even though the amount at issue is small the ECtHR recognized that the practices of the police and in general national public authorities to refuse, withhold or reduce payments for legal aid lawyers constitutes a serious social and legal issue:

“As noted by the applicant, the role of a police-appointed lawyer in a preliminary criminal investigation is crucial in terms of maintaining the functioning and fairness of the Serbian criminal justice system, particularly since statements made in his or her presence may be used as evidence in the subsequent criminal procedure (see paragraph 27 above). It follows therefore that issues closely related to the procedural status of such lawyers, including the payment of their fees, without which their continued participation clearly could not be relied on, cannot be considered trivial, or, consequently, something that does not deserve an examination on the merits.”

There are many legal aid lawyers as Mr. Đurić who experience  similar treatment. More importantly, there are many people who face the might of the national criminal investigation systems without being represented or using the services of underpaid and not motivated lawyers. Hopefully, soon ECtHR will have another possibility to look again at the practice and establish a clear case law.



Entry filed under: Access to Justice, Funding, Legal Advice, Legal Aid, Serbia.

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