Press release: Pro Bono in Moldova - from declarations to effective implementation
November 8, 2018, a mini-conference entitled "Support to the Protection of Public Interest and Further Development of PRO BONO Culture in Moldova" took place in Moldova, Chisinau, at the Union of Lawyers of the Republic of Moldova (Moldovan Bar Association) premises. Human rights lawyers, commercial law firms and NGO representatives were invited to participate at the conference. The conference is co-organized by Human Rights Embassy, Union of Lawyers of the Republic of Moldova, Turcan Cazac Law Firm and American Chamber of Commerce in Moldova (AmCham Moldova), and is supported by PILnet Foundation (Hungary), Visegrad Fund and Government of the Netherlands.

Along with the Moldovan Bar Association, commercial law firms and local NGOs, participants discussed common problems in the protection of public interest in Moldova and in mobilizing legal professionals' expertise for the benefit of the Civil Society; presented best models of legal volunteering and shared know how on pro bono activities of other countries, learned by Moldovan delegates to various International Pro Bono Exchanges (Regional and Global Pro Bono Forums, Study Visits and Workshops) dedicated to pro bono legal assistance in 2017-2018; shared already existed pro bono practice in Moldova, providing concrete examples of legal volunteering in several criminal and civil cases of public interest, as well as discussed results of the online platform yAvo.md work, where legal professionals provide pro bono legal assistance to the most vulnerable. To the end, participants actively discussed opportunities to strengthen further development of pro bono culture in Moldova for effective implementation of potential pro bono projects among legal professionals community and the role of the Moldovan Bar Association in motivating local stakeholders to protect and promote public interest in Moldova.

Lela Metreveli, Executive Director of the Human Rights Embassy, presented to the participants the "Pro Bono Handbook: A guide to establishing a pro bono Program at your law firm" developed by the PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law, the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association and the City Bar Justice Center. Translated into Moldovan/Romanian language by Human Rights Embassy lawyers, the Pro Bono Handbook can hereinafter be widely used by commercial law firms, individual human rights lawyers and other actors for effective implementation of their potential pro bono projects, both in Moldova and Romania.

Although the "Pro Bono Handbook" is designed primarily to help law firms to develop an efficient, effective pro bono program with far-reaching impact, it can be used as a tool, call for action to better organise and integrate pro bono practice in the day-to-day work of every individual lawyer, understanding the need for the protection of public interest. The annexes to the Handbook include examples and models of declarations, model pro bono policy manual, questionnaires, contracts and other documents that can be easily adapted to the objectives and visions of certain law firms or individual lawyers' offices, according to the needs of the pro bono projects beneficiaries.

„The Handbook may be found on the Human Rights Embassy webpage http://humanrightsembassy.org/, in the PRO BONO section, and read by chapters, or downloaded as Manual at the user's choice. For local stakeholders, as well as beneficiaries convenience, the three versions of the Handbook – Moldovan/Romanian, Russian and English – are available on the webpage", mentioned Lela Metreveli.

"Examples presented at the Conference have shown that the pro-bono practice has been present in Moldova for long time, but very often this important activity of both, law firms and individual or associated lawyers' offices, involved in the protection of public interest, unjustly remains in the shade. The purpose of the Conference was to draw attention to the need for public interest protection, to the pro bono concept, to mobilize commercial law firms' legal expertise for wider involvement in pro bono practice, to the need for institutionalization and more effective development of pro bono culture in Moldova" – noted Lela Metreveli.

Alexander Țurcan, Managing Partner of the Law Firm „Ţurcan Cazac", showed the results of pro bono practice implemented through online platform yAvo.md (https://yavo.md/), created in September 2014. In 2016 the platform was open for the general public and requests from the beneficiaries, when about 40 lawyers joined the platform to provide pro bono legal assistance online. In 2 years of existence the online platform achieved significant results: 1) more than 200 lawyers provide pro bono legal assistance to citizens of the Republic of Moldova (lawyers and intern lawyers, legal advisers, law students, paralegals, notaries and bailiffs/judicial executors); 2) 12 000 unique users visit the platform every month; 3) in 2018 the platform reached more than 100 000 users, and has provided more than 8 000 responses to the beneficiaries' requests.

Adrian Gheorghita, Deputy Director for Advocacy and Business Development, American Chamber of Commerce in Moldova, raised issues of Corporate Social Responsibility integrated in many commercial law firms and difference between CSR policies and Pro Bono legal assistance.

The Secretary General of the Association of Women Lawyers from Moldova (FAM), Natalia Molosag, shared examples of pro bono in advocacy where FAM's lawyers monitored court hearings, collected data, analysed statistics, used all existed national mechanisms, and to the end submitted shadow report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights regarding discriminatory approaches in tax policies towards Moldovan women lawyers, and subsequently, this led to the elaboration of recommendations to Moldova by the respective Committee on the elimination of discriminatory practices.

Vladimir Palamarciuc, Member of the Board of the Moldovan Young Lawyers Association, shared information on pro bono implications of Young Lawyers Association in the development of legal profession and education. Young Lawyers participated in elaboration of the practical guide for trainee lawyers, contributed to the legal profession rules reform (Code of Ethics, Recommendations on admission to the legal profession, draft law on legal profession, internal regulations on creation of the Training Center within the Bar etc.), periodically organized pro-bono public legal consultations for the citizens, as well as participated in various mentorship and professional orientation programs for students and young legal professionals (in 2018 – 150 high school students, 100 students, 100 lawyers and intern lawyers, 50 other legal professionals).

Lawyers Valeriu Pleșca and Veaceslav Țurcan informed conference participants about the most important moments of their pro bono activity in the criminal case of victim Valeriu Boboc, bitten and murdered by police officers during a peaceful assembly/protest against the alleged falsifications of the results of the parliamentary elections in 2009. Although the lawyers encountered a strong resistance from the system, they succeeded in defending the public interest within this strategic case, where issues related to impunity for unlawful acts of state agents, violation of the right to freedom of assembly, to freedom of demonstrators' expression, violation of the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, and even breach of the right to life, are at stake. For more than 9 years, lawyers worked pro bono on Valeriu Boboc's murder case. In 2016, after all domestic remedies were exhausted lawyers lodged an application with the ECtHR against the Republic of Moldova. In 2018, the application was communicated to the Moldovan Government. Currently, the communication within ECtHR proceedings on this application is at the final stage. In case the applicants' complaints are acknowledged, the Moldovan authorities would be obliged to restore the procedural rights of V.Boboc's relatives and to properly investigate all the circumstances of the case and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ana Galus, Associate of the Law Firm „Ţurcan Cazac", prepared information on the pro bono legal assistance granted by the firm's lawyers to the family from the Suruceni village, the Ialoveni district, in connection with the real estate they live in. The building, called the "line house" (which is part of the support infrastructure of a main road), was granted by the employer of one of the family members - the Chisinau Road Administration. After 30 years, the property was open for privatisation and the family addressed to the "Turcan Cazac" Law Firm to seize the auction and acquire their rights on the property. The lawyers of the firm provided legal assistance to the family, ensuring its representation in the trial, that finally led to the acknowledgment of the auction's unlawfulness, while pursuing parallel attempts to privatize or otherwise acquire property rights, summing up to about 300 hours of pro bono work on the case.

Mariana Stratan, Associate of the Law Firm „Ţurcan Cazac", shared information on the case in which, in 2012, the court established an aliment allowance amounting to 1,250 MDL that the father R.Ţ. had to pay for the benefit of mother E.Ţ. for their minor child's rearing. At the time of the case examination, R.Ţ. was domiciled in Ireland. In 2016, mother E.Ţ. asked for pro-bono legal assistance at the Law Firm "Ţurcan Cazac". The lawyers filed with the court seeking the increase of the aliment allowance amount for the minor child in relation to his poor health condition. Lawyers also had to address directly to responsible authorities in Ireland, with the involvement of the competent court in Ireland, to determine the amount of monthly income of R.Ţ. At the same time, all medical investigations were performed, the medical treatment necessary to restore the health of the minor child was established, as well the costs related to such medical treatment were estimated and presented to the court. As a result, the first court increased the amount of the aliment allowance from 1,250 MDL to 2,244.5 MDL and obliged R.Ţ. to share additional medical expenses amounting to MDL 2,570 per month. Thus, E.Ţ. would receive monthly from R.Ţ. for the minor child a total amount of 4,814.5 MDL. Since 2016 by now, 3 lawyers and 1 trainee lawyer provided legal assistance to mother E.Ţ., dedicating circa 70 hours of pro bono work on the case and assuming their own financial costs in connection with translation of documents and medical investigations.

Olga Saveliev, Associate of the Law Firm „Ţurcan Cazac", presented information about the case where, in 2014-2015, the lawyers of the firm provided free legal assistance to the Yachting Federation of the Republic of Moldova in connection with the protection of the Federation's right to use the land on the Ghidighici Lake shore. In 1997 the Vatra Mayor's Office issued the land owners' rights authentication document and handed over the land for use, where the Federation's sports base was established. In 2011 litigation appeared between the Yachting Federation of Moldova and the Vatra Mayor's Office, regarding the validity of the right to use the land and the eviction of the Federation. Given that the Yachting Federation of Moldova is the only sport yachting organisation in Moldova representing the country at international level, the nullity of the land owners' title and the eviction of the Federation would have had the consequence of the extinguishment of sport yachting in Republic of Moldova. By acting in the interests of the Federation, the firm assured the Federation's representation in the trial, which ended with the conclusion of a reconciliation settlement with the Vatra Mayor's Office. 2 lawyers provided legal assistance to the Federation, dedicating circa 50 hours of pro bono work in the case.

The concept of pro bono legal services may include free legal services provided to the poor or to nongovernmental institutions (NGOs) that primarily benefit the poor. It may also include legal services that are provided in matters of public interest (such as civil rights matters that would not likely be brought in the absence of free counsel) and in matters on behalf of marginalized populations. It may also include free legal services to NGOs that are small and therefore cannot afford counsel.

In many countries of the world, lawyers understand pro bono as a professional obligation, one that derives from the nature of the lawyer's role in the society, and the privileged position of lawyers in terms of providing access to justice. Pro bono legal assistance is particularly important in addressing the gaps that preclude the neediest in society from securing paid counsel. The importance of the obligation also is great where public interest matters would not otherwise have access to legal advocacy were it not for pro bono lawyers. Also, pro bono services can be provided on matters in the public interest, such as preparing a legal report discussing access to public information held by government agencies.

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For free dissemination to the public

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Contacts: Lela Metreveli, Executive Director

Human Rights Embassy / Ambasada Drepturilor Omului

GSM: /+373/ 697-19-808

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