The first meeting of the Balkan Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN) was held in Ohrid, Macedonia from May 5 – 7, 2014. The meeting of the Network was organized as part of the American Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), a three-year regional program implemented with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The purpose of the Balkan Regional Rule of Law Network is to advance the rule of law in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia by introducing mechanisms for cooperation and mutual exchange of best practice, tools and knowledge between regional bar associations and civil society organizations working with the judiciary.
Based on an extensive analysis conducted by Elizabeth Givens, ABA ROLI Program Director, Ashley Martin, ABA ROLI Senior Program Manager, and Jessie Tannenbaum, ABA ROLI Legal Analyst, and five regional program coordinators, the Network’s fields of activity have been defined. In addition to issues related to improving access to justice, professionalism and independence of the legal profession, education and professional development, obtaining licenses, lawyer-client relations, ex officio defense, a very important topic, was also discussed with members of the non-governmental sector active in the field of criminal justice.
Particular emphasis in the discussion between members of the bar associations and NGO representatives is related to how lawyers and their professional associations can benefit from working closely with civic organizations working in the field of justice on issues of common interest, especially in areas of providing free legal services.
Given the different ways in which free legal aid is regulated in the countries of the region, there is room for cooperation and exchange of best practices and experiences among network members.
One of the conclusions of the conference was that professional bar associations, whether they be voluntary organizations or formally established licensing bodies and defining rules of the profession – such as the bar – are themselves civil society organizations, and can benefit from cooperation with other civic organizations, to work together in the interest of justice, to provide access to justice through the provision of free legal assistance and advice, and to advocate at national and international level for changes in law and human rights.
Representatives of the Association for Democratic Initiatives in Sarajevo and YUCOM had the opportunity to talk about how the area of legal aid has been regulated in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, and to share their experiences in providing advice and information that they have acquired during the study visits to Romania, the UK and Ireland as part of the Triple A project.