Pro Bono in Moldova, facts and figures
The event was attended by lawyers, commercial law firms and NGO representatives, which 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 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, discussed results of the online platform yAvo.md work, where legal professionals provide pro bono legal assistance to the most vulnerable, and 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.
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.
Multiple 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.
Here are some facts and figures:
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.
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 provided through strategic litigation 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: Valeriu Boboc was beaten and murdered on the night of 7 to 8 April 2009 during a peaceful assembly on the Great National Assembly Square in Chisinau by several employees of the Moldovan Ministry of Internal Affairs. He participated at the peaceful assembly against the alleged falsifications of the results of the parliamentary elections. As a result of the special public-order operation, police officers and other representatives of the law enforcement agencies allowed a disproportionate and inappropriate use of the power against the demonstrators, and the people remaining on the square were arrested regardless of the fact that they participated or not at the assembly. Valeriu Boboc was severely beaten that night, right on the square, and died as a result of his injuries. For several days, his relatives did not know where V. Boboc was. Only later it was found out that the police took his body to the territory of the Emergency Hospital in Chisinau, and threw him in the yard of the emergency hospital. The body with visible serious bodily injuries was later discovered and taken to the morgue, where a medical examiner found that the cause of V. Boboc's death was poisoning with an unknown gas. This information was disclosed into the media and since then has served as the official version of the Moldovan authorities about the cause of death of one of the protesters, V. Boboc. The lawyer of the Boboc family, Valeriu Plesca, filed numerous complaints to the territorial and General Prosecutor's offices, appealed before the courts against the refusals. Later, with the help of local and international human rights organizations, the special representative of the EU in Moldova, as well as the large mediatisation of this case, the lawyer's request for appointing and conducting a forensic examination of V. Boboc's body, with the participation of an independent UK expert, Derrick John Pounder, was approved. At this stage, a second lawyer, Veaceslav Turcan was involved in the case.
An exhumation of the body of V. Boboc and a forensic examination were carried out, as the result of which the real cause of death was established - numerous injuries causing his death. Only after this, the criminal case, with the indictment against a sole police officer, was sent to the court. Lawyers were not allowed as representatives of the relatives of the murdered Boboc to participate in the criminal cases launched against the former Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc, the former General Commissioner of the Chisinau Municipal Police, Vladimir Botnari, and these high officials eventually escaped criminal liability for V. Boboc's death.
The judicial examination in all court instances concerned only one police officer, on the charge of life deprivation of V. Boboc. The case ended with a conviction sentence against this police officer, who had fled the country by the time of the final court decision. It should be noted that with the help of experts from the US State Department, who studied videotapes from video cameras located on the building of the Government of the Republic of Moldova, the court was provided with evidence to identify this police officer who dealt the death blow to V. Boboc. The rest of the police officers who dealt the death blows to V. Boboc were not identified by the criminal investigation bodies.
Although the lawyers encountered a strong resistance from the system, the lawyers 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. In this case, there was no prompt, effective and full investigation of the human rights violations and some of the persons subject to criminal liability, including high officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, have so far escaped being personally charged for their actions. In this respect, the lawyers have consequently exhausted all domestic remedies. 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.
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 raising. At the time of the case examination, R.Ţ. was domiciled in Ireland. The father's statements about being unemployed and lacking regular income served for determining the fixed amount for the aliment allowance, since there wasn't provided any contrary evidence. 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. The complexity of this case was determined by the fact that R.Ţ. continued to live and work in Ireland. Lawyers 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, and the costs related to such medical treatment were estimated and presented to the court. As a result, the first instance 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 intern 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. The subject of the dispute was the Vatra Mayor's Office refusal to recognize and provide support for the registration of the Federation's right to use the land in the Real Property Register. Given that the Yachting Federation of Moldova is the only sport yachting organisation in Moldova representing the country within the International Sailing Federation, European Sailing Federation, Moldovan Olympic Committee, 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. During the judicial examination of the case, 2 lawyers provided legal assistance to the Federation, dedicating circa 50 hours of pro bono work in the case.
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 since 1982. 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 through public tender / auction, as the Public Property Agency declared the building as non-useful assets, and the family addressed to the "Turcan Cazac" Law Firm to seize the auction and acquire their rights on the property. Two 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. Therefore, the lawyers of the firm helped the family with multiple requests for documents from the Archive and public administration, appealing against court refusals, pursuing parallel attempts to privatize or otherwise acquire property rights, summing up to about 300 hours of pro bono work on the case.