By Ernest Petrosyan

The Messenger
april 26 2010

The first Legal Aid Service Bureau in Akhaltsikhe, in the
Samtskhe-Javakheti region, was opened with the assistance of United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on April 22. Minister of
Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, Head of the
United Nations Development Program in Georgia (UNDP) Jamie McGoldrick
and Legal Aid Service Director Irakli Kobidze conducted the ceremony.

The bureau's six public attorneys and consultants will provide any type
of free legal service to the residents of the Adigeni, Akhaltsikhe,
Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda and Borjomi municipalities.

"The legal aid service is a very important aspect of our Ministry's
activity. The new legal assistance bureau in Akhaltsikhe will serve
residents of Samtskhe-Javakheti region. This bureau will provide
advice and legal aid to socially vulnerable people, ethnic minorities,
internally displaced persons and all those who cannot afford to hire
a lawyer or receive free legal aid and advice. I would like extend
my gratitude to UNDP for such significant support", stated Khatuna
Kalmakhelidze. "Our legal aid service seeks to continually improve
in order to be able to help more people", she added.

"We have made an important step forward in helping improve the
juridical system and service in Georgia. The legal aid bureau will
serve socially vulnerable residents of the region and members of
ethnic minorities. For several years UNDP has been successfully
participating in the development of the court and legal aid systems,
and we wish to continue this cooperation in order to make the justice
system more accessible for people", stated Jamie McGoldrick.

"Samtskhe-Javakheti is the last region to which the legal service
jurisdiction has been extended. With the support of UNDP the population
of Samtskhe-Javakheti is now able to gain free legal assistance. This
is very important in building a fair and democratic state. There are
three aspects to the service: representation by public lawyers in
criminal cases, free legal advice and assistance in drawing up legal
documents," stated Irakli Kobidze.

"There are six public lawyers and one consultant. They have helped
in about 40 criminal cases, drawn up up to 20 legal documents and
provided more than one hundred consultations. Our region has a
distinct population profile, as more than 60% of its residents are
ethnic Armenians. Our consultant Tina Akopyan is of Armenian origin
and will give legal advice to Armenian-speaking residents," stated
the Director of the Legal Aid Bureau David Zaridze.

Residents of Akhaltsikhe welcomed the opening of the bureau. "Many
people need and want to apply for legal services, hire a lawyer or just
receive advice; however many of them cannot afford it". "It is really
good if there is a consultant who speaks Armenian, as this will help
those who do not speak Georgian," stated the residents of Akhaltsikhe.

The state-funded legal aid system run by the Ministry of Corrections
and Legal Assistance of Georgia provides legal services to all
citizens, but especially the socially and economically vulnerable.

Through a US 200,000 project UNDP is helping the Legal Aid Service
expand its work throughout Georgia, train lawyers and inform the
public about its services.

Georgia adopted the Law on Legal Aid in 2007, and this state-funded
service, initially run by the Ministry of Justice, was transferred
to the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance in February
2009. In the future, the Legal Assistance Service aims to provide
full representation in civil and administrative cases. It will
also reach vulnerable citizens, national minorities and internally
displaced people.