Kyrgyzstan’s state-guaranteed legal aid (SGLA) system is currently under review. Since the beginning of its implementation in 2011, the free legal aid system – which only serves indigent criminal defendants at the present time – has faced serious challenges. Commentators within the country point to the system’s lack of incentives for experienced lawyers to join the roster of participating advocates, as well as the absence of any quality control mechanism, among other issues. The government is now exploring mechanisms to address these problems and ways to further improve the system.
This report, prepared in January-March 2014, examines the potential role of university-based legal clinics as contributors to the SGLA system in the future. In essence, legal clinics function as mini-legal aid centers on the foundation of legal educational institutions. Real clients come to the clinics for legal assistance, including consultations on common legal problems, help in drafting court documents, and even representation before some courts and administrative bodies. In this way, legal clinics serve two primary roles: first as a laboratory in which law students gain concrete, practical knowledge and experience, and second as service delivery centers for disadvantaged citizens needing legal help.
To understand the potential for clinics to contribute to Kyrgyzstan’s SGLA system, the report provides an overview of legal clinical education and a comparative look at the legal aid systems of six other countries, including how clinics fit into them. It then discusses the findings of interview-based research in six Bishkek legal clinics, in which the researcher spoke with clinic directors, professors, and students to understand their current work and capabilities. Finally, the report provides some concrete recommendations to legislators and legal educators in the Kyrgyz Republic based on the findings.
Report prepared by Lillian Langford, Harvard Law School Fellow, Law Program,