The paralegal profession is a relatively new one for the Republic of Moldova, only for about 3 years with valid documents and for about 11 years since this activity was launched as a pilot project. Paralegals are employed by the National Council for State-Guaranteed Legal Aid and their responsibility is primary legal advice to the community to which they belong. This means not only providing information and guidance to the competent bodies when the person has a problem, but especially legal education of people.
Currently, there are 64 paralegals in the Republic of Moldova, most of them in rural areas. The guests of this episode work in Hâncești district. Veronica Li-Șui-Cean is a paralegal in Cărpineni commune and Viorica Chirnicinîii – in Logănești village. The latter is also the president of the National Association of Paralegals of Moldova.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: In general, I think it is a situation for the whole country – inheritances are not accepted in our rural localities. People end up in a situation where they have sold a land plot for which they did not have inheritance accepted, when they did not have a deed confirming their ownership. One of the sellers/buyers might have already died or gone abroad, and when he got into the situation of having to make the document, the man found himself in a bunch of problems. Such cases must be taken bit by bit, put end to end, step by step, until you reach a solution.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: It depends on the locality, because problems related to domestic violence may more often prevail in one locality and problems related to property, inheritance, family law – in another one. I work in Logănești village, Hâncești district.
In my case, for example, problems related to property, ownership and succession prevail and, since I’m also a social worker, many victims of domestic violence come to me.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: I work in Cărpineni commune, Hâncești district, which is a big locality with 10,600 inhabitants where, again, issues related to ownership and succession, and lots of ones related to the neighborhood right prevail. Conflicts between neighbors are a great deal.
Cu DREPTul: And how do you manage to solve them?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: In different ways. The Local Council has lately approved a regulation on animal keeping in the territory of our locality, because there are many conflicts related to the fact that neighbors keep animals at home and disturb the other neighbors. There have been even seemingly funny cases. A woman came to us asking what she should do if her neighbor keeps about 100 roosters at home, she comes from her night shift and must sleep during the day or go to bed in the morning and all the roosters start singing at a certain hour and that bothers her literally. We then had to intervene and, based on that regulation, to explain to that neighbor that it was not possible for him to keep so many chickens at home i.e. he should either build a farm outside the locality or reduce their number.
Cu DREPTul: Just out of curiosity, how did it end?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: The man cut the roosters.
Cu DREPTul: In fact, the paralegal in the community is more than a simple, say, translator of the law who tells one what to do, it is quite a demanding job in practice. Now, you tell me – how is it paid and to what extent is this a problem for the paralegal community?
Viorica Chirnicinîi: In 2010, 31 people were selected and, out of those 31, less than 10 have been practicing this profession to this day, so staff turnover in our profession is quite high. People come because it’s something interesting, something new, but the pay is very low – 1,300 lei – so people come and go.
Cu DREPTul: There is more and more talk lately about the legal empowerment of people, about legal culture, which would protect and safeguard us from many troubles.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: It’s true.
Cu DREPTul: How are we doing in this sense or what do we do?
Viorica Chirnicinîi: People sometimes come when nothing can be done any longer, when the problem that could have been solved by advice, an idea or something easy already needs to be taken to court or to other institutions. Our people have this gift of leaving the problem until the last moment, when it really presses them. Indeed, we as paralegals are there to inform them about what can happen if they do not solve their problems in time, because problems occur to everyone. The paralegal informs and refers. I think this is our basic designation – to inform one about the legal provisions – what to do, how to do it, what may happen if one fails to do it properly, and to refer one to the institution able to solve that problem, to help one solve their problem.
Cu DREPTul: What is the demand on you in general?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: We are still coping with the requests. I would just probably point out that, historically, there has been no legal or financial culture in our society. People have not been taught they should follow certain procedures or consider certain legal issues. Perhaps, this can still be felt.
We are also there to encourage people to come to us, to pay attention to the legal issues and the procedures they have to follow to avoid problems in the future.
Cu DREPTul: But how can that be felt? Give me some examples, so that I can understand…
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: They don’t read what they sign…
Viorica Chirnicinîi: They miss the deadline for bringing in a problem and having it solved…
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: They sell their house without documents…
Viorica Chirnicinîi: Yes … ‘I promise the house will be yours after I die’ without making a deed, and they end up without the necessary deeds after the one has died, or the youngest child in the family keeps the house after that but the law does not provide for such a thing. People need us for the time being.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: There is only one in a village but it would be good to have at least one in two or three localities. For example, Hâncești has over 40 localities but we are three paralegals. However, there are districts that have one or none.
Cu DREPTul: In the communities you come from as well as in those where your colleagues whom you work with tell you about – what is the general culture and legal culture like?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: It’s probably still low.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: Yes, it still falls short.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: If people still sell houses without documents, if there is still violence in families and women don’t know what to do and where to go, we probably still have a lot of work to do. These are some examples that have come to my mind right now, so there is certainly a wider range.
Cu DREPTul: What would be not only temporary but also general solutions, of perspective?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: Probably more legal education is needed in school. General law was taught at school in my times but I don’t know what the school curriculum is now.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: It is not in the school curriculum now.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: But I think that in high school or, say, last year of high school, it would be appropriate for students to have a legal education course…
Viorica Chirnicinîi: …with the most basic things.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: Yes, on will, employment contracts, sale-purchase contracts…
Viorica Chirnicinîi: … domestic violence, because they need to know about it.
Cu DREPTul: The rights, the right to work.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: Yes, rights and obligations.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: Girls are going to get married, have children, they need to know how to defend themselves, know something about financial management.
Cu DREPTul: Starting from the fact that people don’t really know what their rights are and what to do when they are violated, how they are insured, or if talking about people’s level of access to justice, starting from that.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: We can start by saying that some people may not even understand that certain rights of theirs have been violated. Our nature, of all of us, or so we were educated – again, I go back to our historical culture – is not to make scandals, not to start and go against other people but rather to sit quietly in our place and let it go sometimes, ‘God is up and sees it all’, and call that the end of it. Such things should probably be changed.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: People still think that only the one who has money can solve their problem. We want people to know that everyone is entitled to enjoy state-guaranteed legal aid. We try to help them get access to justice.
Cu DREPTul: You said at the beginning that people come when it’s too late and you can’t do anything. So do you remember such a case, when they came too late, or when you could no longer help the person, even though you wanted to do it?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: They come to us when the man has been dead for several years already and they cannot register their ownership over some property that does not belong to them, they can’t.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: If you know, if you are informed – you are free from a lot of problems!
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: We have real satisfaction from that, seriously.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: Yes, that is true!
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: You know, people walk on the street and say, ‘Hello!’ and ‘Thank you for helping me’, and you feel useful to society.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: I felt I could do beautiful things for people, and people appreciate that.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: Yes, it is our impact on society. I want to believe that we bring value to society, that we influence the lives of the people around us.
Viorica Chirnicinîi: A change for the better. The fact that we can change the world for the better matters a lot; it matters more than the pay of 1,300 lei. I have said it many times: a ‘thank you’ coming from the bottom of one’s heart covers all the money. That’s it!
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: That’s why we’re tired, but we keep going.
Cu DREPTul: To what extent do people know they are entitled to the services provided by the state, from this perspective and legally?
Viorica Chirnicinîi: When they come they don’t know it, they keep asking, “Don’t I have to pay anything? Don’t I owe you anything?” They ask this when they come and when they leave. They feel uncomfortable about not owing anything and keep asking me, “Surely I don’t have to pay you?
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: One of the female beneficiaries asked me, “Is there a complaint book, or where could I call to say that you helped me, to express my thanks for helping me?” To me, that was “Oh my god!” Another woman, too, asks, “But who hires you?” I reply, “The National Council for State Guaranteed Legal Aid” – “Give me their phone number, I want to call them and tell them about you”, that is, to tell them something good about me. I say, “No need, please.” People are grateful and thank us.
Cu DREPTul: Concerning state-guaranteed legal aid, to what extent do people know that it exists, that they can use it?
Viorica Chirnicinîi: In the locality, people pass it on from one to another. There are also those who have already solved their problem through state-guaranteed legal aid and pass the information on to their relatives, neighbors, friends about the fact that they could also do it this way. That even if one has no money, but the problem must be solved, one can solve it, that the state allows access to justice for everyone, regardless of their income level. Yes, the word of mouth works and it spreads rather quickly.
Veronica Li-Șui-Cean: It’s the best way to convey information.
This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.