Justice reforms are also expected by the people who are part of the system, and so far, the changes have not been felt much – says Pavel Grițco, on-demand lawyer who has also worked as a public lawyer five of his eleven years of experience. Of the approximately 2000 lawyers with the right to practice this profession, virtually, every fourth is also an on-demand lawyer who offers their services to the territorial offices of the National Council for State-Guaranteed Legal Aid. 

Cu DREPTul: What does it actually mean to be a lawyer on demand?

Pavel Grițco: A lawyer on demand I think means much more than just being a lawyer, because a lawyer on demand provides legal assistance to disadvantaged people, so to speak, who have no funds to hire a lawyer themselves. At the same time, it is quite difficult for the lawyer as well, because you do not get to choose your client; they are offered to you through the territorial offices of the National Council for State-Guaranteed Legal Aid.

Cu DREPTul: Is the responsibility greater? And I’ll tell you why I’m asking that. There has been this stereotype in place for many years – that on-demand lawyers or ex officio lawyers, as they were once called, are pro bono and in vain?

Pavel Grițco: These stereotypes have been in place since 2010, since I became a lawyer and since I have been providing state-guaranteed legal aid. Such stereotypes have always been there but we, the lawyers, basically the providers of this service, must remove them through our work and prove there is no difference between me providing legal assistance on a contract basis or free state-guaranteed legal aid.

Cu DREPTul: The lawyers’ remuneration was increased a few months ago. Can on-demand lawyers feel the impact of this increase, as it has been gradual somehow, but?…

Pavel Grițco: Exactly, the conventional unit used to be 20 lei and then later increased to 30, 40 and now is 50 lei, which one can clearly feel but no matter how many colleagues I talk with, no one is ever satisfied with the remuneration they receive.

Cu DREPTul: Does the increase in remuneration have an impact on quality? Or to what extent does it have an impact?

Pavel Grițco: Here I can only say from my perspective, how I worked before and tried to help the person who had been entrusted to me, to say so, the same now, and having a client on a contract basis – the way I strive in their case I try to provide quality work also for a beneficiary of state-guaranteed legal aid.

Cu DREPTul: How do you feel – again, is it a subjective matter – what is the level of legal culture of citizens or at least of the people with whom you interact?

Lately, however, thanks to the paralegals, thanks to the fact that more and more people have heard of state-guaranteed legal aid, at least they can seek a consultation. Sometimes, I compare our work with that of doctors, we have to prevent.

Pavel Grițco: When you feel that you have to conclude a legal contract or take some actions, it would be very good to go to a lawyer or attorney or notary and ask: “Is it good what I do or what I would like to do, or isn’t it? ” It is much easier to prevent than to solve. If the person encounters a legal issue for the first time, it depends on each individual person, but they do not know exactly. A simple example – I have a criminal case, they call us to the police, then to the prosecutor’s office, and then to court. Many times the client asks me: “Why do they keep calling me and I have to keep recounting and giving statements, if I want, at the police and in the prosecutor’s office and in court, if I did it once?” They often ask, “How much longer can you keep calling me? Ask when it ends.” “Are we finished?” Today I have been to the prosecutor, “Is it over already?” – “Wait, no, wait for a summons, you will already be summonsed to court.” 

Cu DREPTul: Going back to the trial and the relationship you have with the other actors involved, including the judge, does a lawyer feel equal in a trial?

Pavel Grițco: It already depends on the court and on the judge. A judge’s role is that of a leader, organizer, so to speak, and they should intervene or at least make us feel equal, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Just recently, during the examination of a criminal case, at the hearing, the judge asks the defendant: “Do you admit your guilt?”- “I do not admit it.” – “Don’t you?” The judge is already making assessments: “You don’t admit it, ok, we will see at the end.” It may shock the client – it doesn’t shock me so much anymore, as I’ve heard words like this before – but it leaves you with a bitter taste sometimes, because, how can you, as a court, until you investigate the evidence – yes, you have the case file from the criminal investigation body, from the prosecutor’s office, it has been sent to the court – but you have not looked into the evidence yet, you could have not already formed an opinion of whether the person is guilty, or not, or how guilty they are.

Cu DREPTul: In relation to the others?

Pavel Grițco: Further, the role of a prosecutor is not to prove a person’s guilt; they must as well prove their innocence. In our country, unfortunately, it is quite rare for a prosecutor to say at the end of a case examination, “But look, I have also come to the conclusion, honorable court, that person X is not guilty and they must be acquitted or we dismiss the charges,” even though when simply chatting together with me, outside the hearing, he could tell me, “well, there is not so much evidence, or maybe they committed the crime but not exactly what is incriminated against them, maybe a less serious one or one that can be reclassified under a different point.” Again, however, many run after performance indicators and we must show how many convictions we have had, and so on.

Cu DREPTul: What changes, for the better or not necessarily, have you noticed in the justice system?

Pavel Grițco: Changes for the better, I think I would say, at least, court specialization. Maybe some don’t like it, because you must move around, for example, in Chișinău – you have a criminal case, you run to Buiucani, if you have a civil one, you run to the Center, and so on, but I think judge specialization is a good thing. I think it would be good for the lawyers, too, to try to specialize in a certain area and stop being like…, I don’t know, universal soldiers, to know everything, but, in fact, nothing. 

Cu DREPTul: Have you seen this specialization also in the quality of judgements and reasonings?

Pavel Grițco: One can feel it, although sometimes we see the reverse side, as some already go mechanically. If before, let’s say, when they were not specialized, they were trying to find out or look for a solution not only as it is written in the law, but also to be human, so to speak, now it can be… let’s say, the case file has arrived on their desk: “What’s the issue?” – “X”. – “Ok, I see solution Y to the issue X, and I will only issue solution Y”, even if each case is different.

Cu DREPTul: Other changes?

Other changes… I’m telling you, I don’t see many. We only hear about reforms, including about the justice reform, but big changes, at least I, have not felt in these past 10 to 11 years.

Pavel Grițco: Yes, the youth who are coming now do a very good job in the police and in the prosecutor’s office, judges who are very well trained and high quality, so to speak, but sometimes you can be well trained, but if you are too young and lack the necessary life experience, you may pass a solution that is if not totally wrong, then at least partially wrong. On the other hand, if you are older you already have life experience and sometimes you go deeper into the problem and the solution you pass in a particular case.

Cu DREPTul: From your perspective of a lawyer on demand but also from your experience as a public lawyer, what are the most serious barriers in the access to justice of the population or certain groups?

Pavel Grițco: The most serious problems would be still the financial ones. Or, let’s say, you have access to a lawyer. Well, I can say that, in my opinion, the state-guaranteed legal aid is one of the best reforms in the field of justice that have been. It works. We can say that a reform works when you see that the law that was passed and for whom it was passed – the people – have access to this law and based on it, can have access to justice. In addition to the fact that, well, the state guarantees you a lawyer to help you, financial problems and expenses happen later again with a case in which you may request, for example, an expert examination with the same prosecutor or police, or in court. Okay, are you ready to pay for that examination?  Or in case of people with disabilities, for instituting legal protection measures in the form of guardianship, again, one must first have an expert examination conducted before going to court to have a judicial protection measure established. Those expert examinations also cost. Some people have financial possibilities to pay for them, others don’t. It’s true, the director of the institution that conducts expert examinations can do it for free but such cases are few, or even in the discussions with some of them, they argued, “Well, I can do it for free and then, God forbid, they may think that I have allegedly taken a bribe when, in fact, I did it for free?” and they try to be more distant and not get involved. And the trips, yes, especially if there are many hearings and your trial takes place in Chișinău but you live in the north or south of the country. It happens often, and such movement again deals with the financial aspect.

Cu DREPTul: Apart from money, what would be another barrier?

Pavel Grițco: It would be ignorance, so to speak. Okay, I don’t know if we all need to be legally educated but at least we should try to find someone to turn to or to ask for help. This problem is partly solved by the paralegals who are…

Cu DREPTul: …if they are present, because they are not present everywhere.

Pavel Grițco: …if they are present in that locality. Anyway, even if they are not present, one paralegal I think is responsible for 2, 3, 4 localities around. It already depends, I think, on the local public administration in that locality to make it known that there are specialized people in place and if you have a legal question or something is not clear to you, you can come and ask them. Others, yes, may live all their lives and not know they actually have a problem.  


This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.