Nationwide Consultation for First Ever Action Plan on Legal Aid in Laos

Over one hundred Government representatives from 18 provinces joined international organizations and development partners for a Consultation on the first ever Legal Aid Action Plan for the Lao PDR on August 23.

The Action Plan will cover the period 2023-2026, aims to establish a clear blueprint for the provision of legal assistance and representation in Lao PDR, in particular for vulnerable groups, such as survivors of gender based violence or trafficking, persons with disabilities and children.

The Ministry of Justice, with technical support from UNDP, have led the drafting of the Action Plan to both increase access and improve quality of legal aid. Following the passing into law of Decree on Legal Aid in 2019, the Ministry of Justice have been working to establish legal aid offices in all provinces and train legal aid service providers in assisting citizens with their legal queries and challenges, with support from development partners.

The Government has set an ambitious targets related to legal aid under the 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan, including: by 2025 the Lao legal aid system shall reach 200,000 people and the number of legal professionals shall be increased to 500.

Despite these efforts and plans, many people who need legal support still cannot access it, so an analysis was conducted in 2021 to deep dive into the challenges facing the legal aid system.

The Ministry of Justice consulted with key legal aid actors, including legal aid officers, lawyers, government staff, prosecutors, CSOs, development partners, and legal academics to find out what the problems were, and what actions might be taken to improve the system.

Co-Chair of the meeting Mr. BounsoungThavisak, Deputy Director General of Administration of Judicial Promotion, Ministry of Justice, emphasized that “the need for the improvement of Lao legal aid system is significant, to increase level of public awareness on legal aid, improve service quality and strengthen partners’ cooperation”, he added that the “Ministry of Justice will need a clear action plan on legal aid work to meet these needs.”

Seán O’Connell, Assistant Resident Representative, UNDP, and Co-Chair for the meeting highlighted that “these difficult times we are going through put already vulnerable people in even more difficult circumstances, and for these people, legal aid is an important lifeline to protect themselves from further harm and injustice.” He added that “the Ministry of Justice should be commended for moving quickly to develop the plan and taking action, and we as UNDP look forward to continue supporting the Government to get the Plan finalized and endorsed.”

The draft Plan was shared at the Consultation meeting and highlighted four focused aims, namely: accessibility of legal aid; cooperation between legal aid providers and partners; quality of legal aid, and; sustainability of the legal aid system. The Plan is expected to be submitted for official approval by the Ministry of Justice by the end of 2022, with further consultations expected with key government agencies and development partners.

Source: Lao News Agency

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