Free legal aid for victims of violence against women

Date: Thursday, October 10, 2019

LAS director Razhden Kuprashvili
LAS director Razhden Kuprashvili; Photo: Mariam Beridze

Providing free legal aid to the victims of violence against women and domestic violence (VAW/DV) is one of the commitments taken by the Government of Georgia under the Istanbul Convention. Pursuant to this commitment, the LEPL Legal Aid Service (LAS) acquired new functions after the Convention’s ratification and began cooperating closely with UN Women to ensure their implementation. LAS director Razhden Kuprashvili evaluates the agency’s efforts in the area of ending violence against women and domestic violence in Georgia throughout 2017-2019.

What are the specific changes in LAS activities in connection to VAW/DV?

In accordance with the Istanbul Convention, the State removed the pay requirement for VAW/DV victims. Now, any victim, despite their economic status, enjoys free legal aid in Georgia. The only exception is our involvement in the process of issuing a restraining order: victims and alleged victims can get free legal aid service in this regard only if they live below the minimum poverty threshold.

As for the new functions, these are: providing legal counselling to the victims in drafting an application, claim, counterclaim or other document; and ensuring representation for the victim at court, the police and other administrative institutions.

Correspondingly, every VAW/DV victim can be referred to the LAS, which has 13 bureaus and 10 consultation centers throughout the country. S/he can also call our hotline (292 00 55) or contact us through our website, Facebook page or Skype.

What activities has the LAS carried out while ensuring these functions?

First, it should be mentioned that 60 LAS employees were trained in 2017 on VAW/DV issues with the support of UN Women. Last autumn, within the framework of the joint UN Women/EU project, a three-day intensive training course was held in which 41 LAS representatives participated. Among them were lawyers from all over the country, wherever the LAS has a bureau or a consultation center. After completing the course, 39 participants were awarded with a VAW/DV specialization. As a result, the LAS now has specialized lawyers throughout Georgia, thanks to UN Women’s assistance.

What about the referral statistics, and in general, what issues are being referred to specialized lawyers?

More than 600 people have received our services since 2015, and among them, 353 were referred to us in 2018-2019. This is the period when UN Women was providing assistance to the LAS in training specialized lawyers on domestic violence. Correspondingly, all referred beneficiaries received legal assistance from specialized lawyers.

It is noteworthy that with the financial support of the EU and UN Women, two lawyers in the Tbilisi and Kvemo Kartli bureaus are working only on VAW/DV issues. These bureaus have the highest victim referral rates, but Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kakheti regions also have high rates.

Not only women but also minors are referred to our specialized lawyers as victims of violence. Most of them experience physical violence, and there are many cases of psychological violence and neglect by parents.

It is interesting to learn about the awareness-raising efforts of the LAS. What activities are being implemented?

Annually, LAS representatives hold awareness-raising meetings about VAW/DV at various locations, including those regions populated with ethnic minorities. It is noteworthy that with the support of UN Women and the EU, we published and disseminated information brochures on VAW/DV in three languages: Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani. Also, with UN Women’s assistance, we produced a TV clip that significantly facilitated information dissemination and contributed to higher referral rates. I think that with continued joint efforts, we will be able to overcome this problem.