Legal aid law comes to life

Thousands of low-income earners are to enjoy access to free state legal aid following the government’s move yesterday to activate legislation passed earlier this year but not put into effect so far. Under a joint decision signed by Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras and Deputy Economy Minister Petros Doukas, the state aid will cover services provided by lawyers, notaries public, and court officials as well as witnesses providing expert evidence. All the above will be paid the minimum fee as defined by extant ministerial decisions. The law, drafted last September by Philippos Petsalnikos, PASOK’s justice minister, was passed early in 2004 but never came into effect in the general confusion in the leadup to the March 7 national elections – in which the Socialists were defeated – and after the change of government. The measure, which also covers appeals to the highest level, will apply to all Greek and European Union nationals whose annual income does not exceed two thirds of the minimum yearly salary dictated by collective labour contracts. This amounts to some 5,400 euros. The law also provides legal aid to EU nationals who can prove they are legally resident in Greece or other EU member states. In certain cases, legal aid will be provided irrespective of income or nationality. Lawyers’ associations have complained that the law is unworkable, as the state coffers will be unable to come up with the cash needed to finance such a measure – which is expected to apply to some 20,000 people.