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Legally Empowered Community: Whim or Necessity?

For many people access to justice and their legal needs is something abstract and confusing. Although these concepts have significant influence on human life, almost all fields of life, such as education, health care, employment, acquirement and disposal of property – all they in any respect are law-concerned. If an individual is not able to find a solution to a problem alone, then a demand for law occurs. Unsatisfied law demand indicates a limited or even lack of access to justice and may have significant effect both on an individual in particular and the entire society: health problems, lost job, home, economic collapse. Meaningful understanding of real situation with access to justice has decisive impact on development of effective policies, patterns, and backing of the system of civil justice.

This is a quotation from the coming guidance Exploring Law Demands of Communities which includes answer to the question why should we carry out similar research. The today’s situation is that most of the decisions regarding the directions of legal aid and its priority are beamed down and not always meet the real needs. Actually this problem is common for many fields; the decisions are usually made for people without exploring their real needs. 

That is why Legally Empowered Community has been created and implemented for two years in a raw. It is aimed to explore REAL needs of the Ukrainian communities in the field of justice. And based on the findings of this research, possible options for problem solution will be suggested to the local self-government authorities.

The Program members who have joined its implementation in 2019 completed all research stages, initiated development of the local justice access programs based on the outcomes and lobby hard the adoption of these programs. Certainly, lockdown has somehow corrected the plans. Besides, now an election campaign has been expanded on a full scale which adds challenges for our participants. The program has already yielded results regardless of all these obstacles, since positive changes in the organization’s activities occurred and new projects have been initiated due to research findings.

The member communities of 2019 have met to share their practices and experiences on the 21st of September, 2020.

Shyroke ATC (Zaporizhzhia region) told about activities of the mobile group which happened to involve lawyers and attorneys on a voluntary basis. Yet before we went into the lockdown restrictions, the mobile office had run active visiting activities in the rural areas where people had no access to the Internet or opportunity to have remote advice. 

Oleshyn ATC (Khmelnytskyi region) also arranged for mobile advice and made possible to have advice by Skype. An enormous challenge for this community is the problem of forced amalgamation of communities since this causes conflicts, deprives communities of opportunity to access a number of services (administrative, legal, medical, etc.)

The Kreminna community (Luhansk region), despite of the lockdown, elections and other obstacles, keeps approving its project of the local free legal aid program, regularly negotiates with the parties concerned, in particular with the deputy corps of the local council and its executive officials, improves the content and looks for the ways to implement this important initiative in life.

Khmilnyk (Vinnytsia region) holds regular legal advice meetings and develops remote advice services as well, provides training for both local residents and representatives of the self-government authorities, publishes informative leaflets to help community residents who have no access to the Internet sort out in relevant legal problems.

Members who joined the Program in 2020 encounter the most of challenges as research under lockdown restrictions is highly impeding to the process; nevertheless they keep going: they improve questionnaires, coach interviewers, and some even have launched a field stage of the research.

Olga Nastina, Coordinator of the Initiatory Group that is doing the research in Uzyn ATC (Kyiv region) shares her impressions of this work:

“What the communities know about legal and safety problems that are a matter of concern to their residents? How the authorities should respond to the demands for legal aid or safe environment to be provided in the centres of population? Who is to provide the citizens with proper access to justice in the towns and villages of Kyiv region? Answers to these and other painful questions will be found after the street survey to be conducted among residents of Uzyn ATC right in the next week by the partners and volunteers of Legal Unity public organization within the Legally Empowered Community training practical program.”

“Uzyn ATC is special not only due to location, landscapes bot the people as well. Residents of Uzyn ATC villages, such as Chepeliivka, Sukholisy, Mala Antonivka showed a remarkable interest in meetings with the researches of street survey for legal and safety issues of the Legally Empowered Community program. People are highly concerned with the issues caused by the medical reform: ambulance arrival, free medications (namely, lack of these) and impossibility to have timely and professional medical assistance from health care specialists. Among the top problems are environmental issues, namely: air pollution, obnoxious odours from the local meat processing factory, low-quality drinking water. And bad roads, of course.

Over 100 women and men were questioned. Everyone admits that something must be done… As a matter of interest, people mostly expect that someone else will do something for them and life will be better. We also have two answers like the God is one to set people’s hopes on in the matter of legal aid… Willingness to change is satisfactory; readiness to drive changes is almost zero. However, most of the respondents acknowledge that lack of legal information and timely appropriate legal aid are the most common barriers to exercising their rights.”

As you can see, teams of amalgamated territorial communities in Zelenodolsk (Dnipropetrivsk region), Voznesensk (Mykolaiv region), and Chervona Sloboda (Cherkasy region) have already pre-tested the developed questionnaires, coached interviewers and launched a field stage of the research, and the Uzyn team, moreover, having completed these stages, got to reviewing the findings.

Members of the Legally Empowered Community training practical program who represent 9 communities from 8 regions of Ukraine keep going to their aim – improvement of access to justice for their compatriots.

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