On January 11, 2018 at Krastyu Tsonchev Lawyers Training Centre, the final round table of the project Improving the Access to Legal Aid in the Pre-trial Phase of Criminal Proceedings in Bulgaria took place with the participation of 20 attorneys and other lawyers. The project was funded by Justice Programme (2014–2020) of the European Union. The event was organized by the National Legal Aid Bureau and Open Society Institute – Sofia and project partners. The round table aimed to present to the professional circles the results of a quantitative study of the access to legal aid in the pre-trial phase of criminal proceedings and a draft quality standards regarding the work of lawyers prepared as a result of the implementation of the project. Mr. Peter Van Den Biggelaar, former executive director of the Dutch Legal Aid Board, also participated in the round table and gave a detailed presentation of the criteria for selection and professional training of the lawyers of the legal aid system for criminal cases in Holland.
At the opening of the round table Evgeni Stoyanov, Deputy Minister of Justice, said: The Ministry of Justice considered the issue of the correct transposition and implementation in our country of the EU directives (on the right of access to a lawyer and on legal aid) regarding the basic principles of the Legal Aid Act according to which the legal aid provided in Bulgaria must be effective and provided in such a way as to guarantee the equal access of Bulgarian citizens to justice. …In the last several years the Ministry of Justice has been actively engaged in strengthening the capacity of the National Legal Aid Bureau in terms widening the circle of people with access to the legal aid system and improving the quality of the legal aid provided.
The Project Manager Ivanka Ivanova, PhD, presented the results of a quantitative study of the access to legal aid in the pre-trial phase of criminal proceedings in Bulgaria in 2015. The study shows that in spite the significant decrease in the number of criminal cases brought to court in the last years, legal aid has been provided to maximum one third of the pre-trial proceedings and there is plenty of room for growth. This is the first study in the country with data about the demographic profile of the legal aid users, among whom there are a number of vulnerable groups – there is a substantial share of illiterate people, 10% of the clients are under age, 16% of them do not speak Bulgarian, 11% are foreigners, and one in five is held on remand. Guaranteeing the right to protection poses special and higher requirements to the training and professional qualification of the lawyers within the legal aid system, and demands an increased participation of the National Legal Aid Bureau and the local bar associations in the selection, training and surveillance of the lawyers.
The draft quality standards regarding the work of lawyers in the pre-trial phase of criminal proceedings was presented by Mrs. Elena Cherneva-Markova, President of the National Legal Aid Bureau, and Zlatka Stefanova, lawyer at Sofia Bar Association and project expert.