New Spanish Legal Aid Bill a Setback for Justice

Spanish NGOs have asked the UN special rapporteur on judges and lawyers to help ensure that the government's new Legal Aid Bill is not discriminatory and in violation of international standards.

In light of the imminent approval of the Legal Aid Bill, Rights International Spain and the General Council of the Spanish Legal Profession have approached the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, asking her to send a letter to the government seeking assurance that the bill will be in line with international norms and standards. Approval of the bill in its current form will mean that fewer people will benefit from the right to public defense counsel. The principle of the applicant’s financial capability is done away with, leading to discrimination between citizens. The bill affords the right to free legal aid, even if sufficient resources to litigate are available to the individual, for victims of certain crimes that the government has chosen using its own criteria, placing some victims in a privileged position (while discriminating against others). In these cases, the victims are provided separate counsel to represent them as private accusers, though state prosecutors will carry out the litigation. (For example, a terrorism case, where state attorneys would prosecute the accused but the individual victims may wish to have personal representation throughout the proceedings.) In addition, undocumented migrants in Spain (from non-EU member states) are also excluded as possible beneficiaries of the right to free legal assistance. Ultimately, the bill is a setback and an obstacle to the right to access justice in Spain.