Publication of the report on the Assessment of Legal Needs in Albania

Tirana Legal Aid Society (TLAS), in partnership with the European Law Students Association (ELSA), with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have the distinct pleasure to introduce the new report on the Assessment of Legal Needs in Albania. The complete report, accessible in our website, aims to evaluate the present situation of the legal problems and needs in Albania, particularly among economically disadvantaged. This study examines the prevalence and nature of legal problems, the pathways to their resolution, and the demographic groups that struggle the most with the weight of their legal issues. Accurate statistical data are necessary to inform and direct the policies on provision of free legal aid and access to justice in Albania, especially in the context of the undergoing justice reform.

            The main findings were in line with the data collected by TLAS during its almost 20 year experience in offering free legal aid for the most vulnerable categories. From 1007 telephone interviews and 1002 written questionnaires, using descriptive and inferential statistics, we discovered that:

  1. Economically disadvantaged people are particularly vulnerable to legal problems. Almost 70% of the respondents in our sample declared to have faced at least one accident during the last year, that, according to them, could raise or has raised a legal issue.
  2. Economically disadvantaged people suffer primarily legal issues related to rights (including problems with civil registration or economic aid and social housing), family (including divorce and parental responsibility cases), and employment. These three fields cover more than 70% of all the identified legal problems through telephone interviews.
  3. Among the economically disadvantaged people, the most vulnerable categories to legal issues (the most vulnerable of the vulnerable) are individuals with disabilities and Roma people. 
  4. Among individuals who have faced at least one legal issue during the last year, the most pervasive problems are those related to crime and family, while the least frequent are those related to rights, personal injury, and housing.
  5.  95% of the economically disadvantaged individuals who had experienced at least one legal problem in the last year asserted that the latter had had some adverse effects on their everyday lives. Almost one-quarter of this group reported these consequences as severe. 
  6. The questionnaire found that among individuals who had faced at least one legal issue last year, 85% had experienced complications in their lives due to these problems, and these adversities were classified as severe by 22% of the respondents.
  7. Among economically disadvantaged people, only 26% of the respondents sought legal help to address their problems. The rest either attempted self-reliant solutions (26%) or did not employ any strategy in response to their legal problems (48%).
  8. Regarding point 7), groups that tend most often to not seek external legal aid are the Roma people, individuals without a high-school diploma, unemployed, and people who do not reside in Tirana.
  9. Regarding point 7), lack of financial resources explains 61% of the cases for whom legal aid was not sought. Other 30% of cases are explained by the distrust of the economically disadvantaged individuals toward institutions (including private and public lawyers, NGOs) that offer legal aid.
  10. Regarding point 9), more than 63% of individuals who did not seek legal advice due to financial constraints were not aware (or had limited knowledge) on the opportunity to receive free legal aid from the state or the relevant NGOs.
  11. The proportions referred in point 7) were substantially different for the other sample. Individuals, who had experienced at least one legal problem in the last year, did not seek external aid “only” for 42% of the cases.
  12. Regarding point 11), groups that tend most often do to not seek external legal aid are the Roma people, individuals, whose household’s income falls below the mean of Albania’s GDP per capita, and individuals with disabilities.
  13. Regarding point 11), lack of financial resources explains 53% of the cases for whom legal aid was not sought. Out of this number, approximately 34% of the respondents had no (or limited) knowledge on the opportunity to receive free legal aid from the state or the relevant NGOs.
  14. Among economically disadvantaged individuals, three-quarters claimed not to have been able to solve any of the legal problems experienced in the last 12 months.

Based on these findings, the survey asserted that access to justice for disadvantaged people should become or remain a public priority. Through binary logistic regression, we determined a strong positive relation between the lack of external aid and the inability to finalize a legal issue. Moreover, the proportion of economically disadvantaged people, who had not sought external aid in response to their legal problems last year, was dreadfully high. Although the justice reform focuses to improve quantitatively and qualitatively the catering of free legal assistance, two additional issues must be addressed more thoroughly.

First, lack of (complete) information on free legal aid providers is a powerful hindrance toward effective ways to solve legal issues. Thus, for disadvantaged groups, information and education campaigns that help them to identify their legal problems and signpost them to appropriate legal services are likely to prove helpful. In this respect, the new project of the Ministry of Justice (the establishment of a pilot office specialized in offering legal aid within the Ministry) can be the first step toward an improved communicative scheme.

Second, the diversity of legal problems, their outcome, and consequences demand a holistic approach to justice that is both multifaceted and integrated. It must be multifaceted in that it comprises multiple strategies to cater for the diverse needs of the whole community. It must also be integrated in that it provides more tailored, intensive assistance across both legal and other human services for disadvantaged people who have intertwined legal and non-legal needs. The providers of primary legal assistance should be aware of this heterogeneity of needs and responses and act accordingly.

The proper diagnosis of distinct cases is important not only for the welfare of the relevant individual, but also for the optimal allocation of available funds. Limited funds are usually the major obstacle to the provision of free legal aid, both from a quantitative and a qualitative standpoint. Setting legal service priorities to optimize the mix of strategies necessary to facilitate legal resolution throughout the community is therefore crucial.