One of the more original and unique programs initiated in Israel during IYV and relating to volunteers of all ages, though actively practiced primarily by middle aged adults, is the establishment of the "In-court Voluntary Legal Aid Centers".
The Legal Aid Center, operates as such as of 1993, and with your permission I wish to give you a brief introduction to the idea of Legal Aid Centers.
The State of Israel, a democratic society, places human respect at the heart of its code of values, aiming at a true equality of rights. Law and justice are supposed to be a privilege - a right offered to all citizens. This is a fundamental law in the Israeli juridical system. Unfortunately reality proves that weak populations experience a somewhat different
confrontation in daily life. Needy communities, who seek legal assistance, are not aware of their right to ask for such assistance though it is granted to them by law.
The many new immigrants, under- privileged, newcomers and poverty-striken, who cannot afford to hire the services of a lawyer, cannot materialize their right in court, thus the principle of equality before the law becomes an empty slogan.
To solve this situation, the Israeli Juridical System adopted the concept of "Small Claims Courts" which have become very popular since they are free of complex procedures which other courts are bound to. They are also popular for their quick verdict procedures and low trial costs, thanks to the legal bill, which forbids hiring a lawyer to plead in small claims courts. However, this economical advantage becomes a disadvantage to those who have difficulty to express themselves for a variety of reasons.
Unfortunately, most of those who need the services of these courts fall in the category of the people who have a difficulty to express themselves, and so they cannot materialize their legal rights within the framework that was created to assist them.
One of the most painful feelings experienced by the weak, is the feeling of helplessness. It imposes humiliation anxiety and fear of loss of human respect. The conservation of the respect of every human being in the Israeli society, being as said before, the heart of the legal code in our country, lead to the creation of the "Legal Aid Center in Small Claims Courts".
In 1993 the National Council for Voluntarism in Israel, offered a solution to the problem of inexperienced, unable, poor and helpless citizens who faced a legal issue: The solution suggested volunteered legal service, offered by trained lay-people, with no official legal education.
The Israeli parliament - KNESSET, confirmed the National Council's proposal and acknowledged the council as a recognized institute for training volunteers as Court - Pleaders.
The volunteering Legal Pleaders undergo an intensive training program in various legal subjects relevant to the "Small Claims Courts". In addition, they undergo socio-psychological training to prepare them for the sensitivities of the communities seeking help. The legal pleaders who volunteer for this important activity are aged 45 and above, they come from all circles of the professional diversity and levels of life and bring with them genuine "human capital", thanks to their accumulative experience, both professional and personal.
As of today 280 legal pleaders operate voluntarily in numerous communities around the country. They are coordinated by the National Council for Voluntarism in Israel. Naturally, most of them are situated in developing settlements and within the margins of major cities.
They are appreciated, acknowledge and awarded by their success to help.
IYV team in Israel encouraged its members to improve this activity further. After extensive negotiations with the court judges, on the first of November 2001 (1.11.01) , in an innovative unprecident step, the President of the Magistrate courts in the Tel- Aviv district, the Honorable Justice Edna Bekenstein, opened the doors of the courts in Tel- Aviv to the volunteers of the legal- aid - center of the National Council for Voluntarism in Israel.
The President of the Tel- Aviv Magistrate Court agreed with the council that locating the legal aid center within the walls of the court will enhance the awareness of the public to its right to the law. It is the National Council for Voluntarism in Israel who recruited within one month volunteers to the first 2 In - Court - Aid - Centers for Small Claims, in full cooperation and support of the court secretariat.
This is undoubtedly a crucial declarative act of the juridical system, who believes in the right and obligation of the state to protect needy populations. It sends a clear and loud social message strengthening the voluntary movements in Israel: the Juridical system "with a whole heart to the community".
The volunteers perform in the aid centers daily. They take care of tens of claims and answer questions about the order of the court, alternative solutions to disputes, assistance in writing applications, claims etc, etc.
They also physically accompany the approaching citizens, leading them through the confusing bureaucratic corridors of the court system. Following the success of this project, the Honorable Judge Bekenstein decided to widen the range of activity of these volunteers, thus as of January 2002 a new “Mediation Info-Center” will be opened in the courts, aiming at educating, the public in the nature, advantages and importance of the procedure of mediation in place of court appealing.
And so, along -side the many spheres in which volunteers offer their time, capabilities and will, a new pattern is developing in order to better the life of the weaker links of society, adding another successful accomplishment to the long list of blessed achievements of volunteers in the second millenium.
Thank - you…