• 11 November 2016

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    Spanish lawyers in international cooperation

    El acceso a la Justicia de los ciudadanos está en la base de las garantías judiciales que tienen la consideración de derechos humanos.

    No country or community can function peacefully if its inhabitants are unable to assert their rights in an established system of justice or defend themselves against accusations brought against them. Access to justice by citizens is based on legal guarantees that take into human rights consideration.

     

    Nonetheless, in reality we face numerous difficulties in applying them in a practical and effective way. And, regrettably, when this is the case we see the natural consequences – greater levels of social inequality or high rates of violence – which are often attributed to other factors, such as poverty, when in reality poverty is not a cause but rather an effect, and precisely an effect of the fact that, among other factors, many people are excluded from justice.

     

    The mechanisms for accessing justice should be designed for citizens in general, they should be properly contemplated at the legislative level, and they should also be given the necessary resources to function adequately. Some countries have a more pressing need for cooperation in order to address these needs.

     

    For those of us working to defend the rights of citizens, it is very difficult to not see the tremendous challenges worldwide facing people with disabilities, displaced people and refugees, minorities, victims of trafficking and exploitation, persons deprived of their liberty, and people living in endemic poverty. We are talking about hundreds of millions of people.

     

    The General Council of Spanish Lawyers, through its participation in cooperation actions, often focuses on working to ensure that the most vulnerable groups have access to protection of their rights through the justice system under the same conditions as their neighbours.

     

    We have successfully undertaken numerous projects of this type in some European countries and, above all, in Latin America. We might highlight, for their representativeness, some implemented in collaboration with FIIAPP within the framework of European cooperation programmes such as EUROsociAL.

  • 14 October 2016

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    “The very essence of law is the defence and promotion of human rights”

    Victoria Ortega Benito has been the Chair of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers since January 2016. She is also the first woman to serve in this role.

    On the general website of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers, Victoria refers to the work of Spanish lawyers in the following terms: “We are becoming better and better professionals, although many of us have had to pursue training after finishing university and we continue to do so every day”.  At FIIAPP, we wanted to learn about this reality.

     

    What does your work consist of? How does the average citizen benefit from the work you do?

    The General Council of Spanish Lawyers is the highest executive body that represents and coordinates the 83 bar associations in Spain.

    Among its functions, apart from that of representing Spanish lawyers, there is a fundamental activity of regulatory organisation of the profession. Besides that, we work mostly in the area of advocacy that deals with its disciplinary part in the area of training, in relationships with the justice administration and everything having to do with legal aid. We also work to achieve more agile and effective justice, and we work on reports and studies.

    Another important area of our work is in the cross-cutting international activity, where we fundamentally operate through our office in Brussels.

     

    With respect to the office in Brussels, the work you do there is to be in contact with other European councils but also to do a bit of lobbying, isn’t that the case?

    The impact Europe has is unquestionable and extraordinarily important for us, and we want to increase our work there while enhancing the possibilities for intervention.

     

    In this international and therefore European scope, could you describe for us some of the achievements attributable to your presence there?

    Yes. For example, I want to highlight the latest effort we have joined, which is the International Observatory for Lawyers in Danger (OIAD). There we have joined with lawyers’ councils in France, Italy, Germany…

    It is an observatory that can have an extraordinary impact for colleagues who, for one reason or another, are in a situation of risk; we are working on this, and I believe that it will be successful and very positive.

     

    In the area of the defence of human rights, what is your assessment of the work of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers in this area?

    The very essence of law is the defence and promotion of human rights. Therefore, with the General Council of Spanish Lawyers Foundation, we have redirected this activity that we were pursuing with this group. In this, we have two scopes of action: national and international. It is one of the most respected and beloved institutions by the law profession.

     

    The Council has collaborated in the EUROsociAL project for social cohesion in Latin America, which is managed by FIIAPP and funded by the European Union. What is an example of a success in EUROsociAL?

    The tremendous work it has done for disabled Spanish prison inmates in Ecuador and for people who had completed their sentences but were still in prison. There we have worked very well and been successful.

    Often times we work with great enthusiasm and idealism but the outcome is not positive. But here it has been which also serves as an inspiration for continuing our work in the future.

     

    With respect to your appointment as chair, the first women reach this position, what is your assessment?

    Let’s say that I value it as a start; the day we stop talking about this, the day it ceases to be remarkable, will be the day we have arrived at normalcy. I will say that my colleagues on the Council have given me a wristwatch with the inscription “there are no ceilings”. The day there are no ceilings, we will all have cause to celebrate.

  • 22 July 2016

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    Fifty-thousand people asked the Ombudsman to take action in 2015

    El Defensor del Pueblo es el organismo encargado de defender los derechos fundamentales y las libertades públicas de los ciudadanos.

    Se trata de una institución independiente que, como tal, desempeña sus funciones con independencia e imparcialidad, con autonomía y según su criterio. Además, el Defensor del Pueblo ha colaborado con la FIIAPP en diferentes proyectos de cooperación internacional. El último sobre la puesta en marcha de la oficina del Defensor del Pueblo en Turquía.

    Soledad Becerril, the Ombudsman since 2012, was the first woman to hold the office in Spain.  In this interview, she tells us what the work of the Ombudsman’s Office consists of:

     

    Do all citizens have access to the Ombudsman’s Office?

    All citizens have access to the Ombudsman’s Office, on a non-discriminatory basis and, we hope, without any type of difficulty. Because, for submitting their complaints, they have toll-free numbers they can call, they can write to us directly by sending a letter, come into the Ombudsman’s Office physically to explain their problem and, of course they can also do so via Internet, using e-mail or through our website.

     

    What types of complaints does the Ombudsman handle?

    Complaints about public administrations. The Ombudsman does not handle complaints between private citizens or private institutions or businesses.

    We also act through the corresponding ministry in the case of large companies that provide public services, such as telephony or transport, or, for example, matters related to banks, through the Bank of Spain. But we handle all types of situations and problems. In relation to disabled people, problems with local taxes, matters involving the national tax agency, waiting lists in hospitals, etc. In short, all types of problems and circumstances.

     

    Are all of the complaints in Spain brought before the Ombudsman handled in Madrid, or are there also branch offices in the self-governing communities?

    We cover the entire Spanish territory. There are also Ombudsman’s Offices in ten self-governing communities which have the capacity to act within the jurisdiction of the particular community.

     

    How many complaints are received each year by the Ombudsman’s Office?

    Around 20,000. And, a great number of them are submitted by individuals. Although groups, associations and institutions can also contact us.

    In 2015, in the annual report we present every year to parliament, we realised that 50,000 people had submitted documents requesting action from the Ombudsman.

     

    Are there priority issues for the Ombudsman’s Office?

    We don’t have priority issues. What we do is to try to identify situations that are more urgent than others. For example, if there is a person in an irregular administrative situation who is about to be deported and we are aware that there are also circumstances of vulnerability involved, very unique or very special ones, we act rapidly before the person is deported.

    If we are aware that a minor’s situation is very dramatic or very difficult, these situations are handled before other ones, but all issues are addressed.

     

    What are the main challenges facing the Ombudsman’s Office?

    The greatest challenge is to reach the greatest possible number of people and to ensure that the greatest number of people with a problem know how to contact the Ombudsman and can do so. That’s why the website is so important. To make us visible and make the population understand what we do, to be appreciated. This is fundamental, having the trust of citizens.

     

    Defensor del pueblo_Madrid
    Ombudsman´s office in Madrid

     

    What are the greatest difficulties?

    The same difficulties that all administrations, local governments, regional community governments or the national government have; budgetary problems related to getting more money allocated to assistance, social or health services.

     

    What is the role of the Ombudsman in other countries?

    Most countries in the European Union have ombudsman’s offices, as well as Ibero-American and some Mediterranean countries. We have helped them and assisted in training the teams working in these ombudsman’s offices.

    Most recently we were in Turkey for two years (through a project managed by FIIAPP and financed by the European Commission). We showed them how we work in Spain and collaborated in training the staff there. In addition, we have an ongoing relationship of collaboration with the Ibero-American ombudsman’s offices, which follow the Spanish model.

     

     What has the Spanish Ombudsman’s Office contributed in Turkey?

    We provided part of the necessary training to its teams: how to handle matters, which areas they can take action in, how action can be taken, how to contact administrations, monitoring of legislation in force, respect for human rights… in sum, all of these fields.

     

    How are Turkish citizens benefiting from this project?

    Turkey is a very large country, with 80 million inhabitants; extending the action of the Ombudsman throughout the entire geography and to all Turkish citizens is going to take some time and a great deal of effort. But I hope that little by little they achieve it.

     

    Are there plans to work on more projects in other countries?

    If other projects come up, yes. We’ll do it based on requests for our help.

     

    What is the role of the Ombudsman in refugee issues?

    This is a very complicated issue because the procedures are quite convoluted, but the position of the Ombudsman is to carry out monitoring to ensure that Spain fulfils its commitments in this area. From the Ombudsman’s Office we speak out in favour of receiving, welcoming and integrating the people arriving in our country.