CAIRO: The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) signed an agreement with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice launching a project that will introduce legal aid services for citizens as well as develop the dispute settlement offices currently operating in family courts.
According to a UNDP press statement sent to Daily News Egypt, the project, entitled “Legal Aid and Dispute Settlement Offices in Family Courts, is meant to introduce specialized units that include skilled lawyers who will provide free of charge legal aid for any citizen. The service is the first of its kind in Egypt.
The agreement was signed by Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marei, Director of the International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mahy Hassan Abdel Latif and UNDP Resident Representative James. W. Rawley.
Amin Sharkawi, assistant to Rawley, told Daily News Egypt that the idea was initiated by the government.
He added that the project will be implemented in three family courts: Beni Suef, North Cairo and Ismailia, explaining that the three courts were specifically selected because they are located in areas with high population but weak legal experts.
Through this service, Sharkawi indicated, “citizens will not have to resort to private lawyers who might take advantage of the fact that their clients are in a dispute, illiterate or poor and give them the wrong advice.
“In family courts, the law allows citizens to represent their cases themselves without the help of lawyers. So by providing this service for free, citizens will get the proper legal advice before filing their cases, Sharkawi added.
Sharkawi lauded the government’s initiative which he referred to as a “bold step and believes that if it the project proved successful in these three courts, it could be implemented on a wider scale.
Marei echoed Sharkawi’s optimism, saying that the project might be put into practice in all 226 family courts across Egypt.
“The government created specialized courts to overcome the complexity of procedures in normal courts. Family courts, as one such type of those specialized courts, were selected as an entry point to test the soundness of the concept and the degree to which it is replicable, Marei added.
“The project as a whole will focus on the automation of processes and development of databases for increased efficiency in the management of cases and rulings, Rawley said.
“It will also establish efficient networking with other family courts and the Ministry of Justice; provide specialized training for judges; and oversee the publishing of a guide to family courts developed by the Ministry of Justice.
Sharkawi assured that measures have been taken to make sure that the dispute settlement offices will be free of bribes and corruption.
According to the press statement, the deal was based on researches that have been conducted since 2004, which show that this kind of service is highly needed in family courts, especially given the fact that those courts work mostly with “poor, illiterate, women heads of household who often lack awareness regarding their legal rights and obligations.