Legal aid for women in Malta falls short

Human Rights Activist Laura Dimitrijevic criticized Malta's current system legal aid --especially for victims of domestic violence -- and called on officials to make the courts a safer place for women.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Legal aid for women in Malta falls short - NewsMavens
Lara Dimitrijevic, Vimeo

Why this story matters:

In September, a number of women's rights NGOs marched together to demand justice for those harmed by domestic violence after the fourth victim in three months was reported -- 26 women in Malta have been killed by their partners in the last 20 years. Members of the ruling party and three opposition parties participated and pledged to take action.  However, in a recent conference, human rights lawyer and activist Lara Dimitrijevic discussed what it is like for the women affected by domestic violence to actually seek justice and what more needs to be done:

"We need to adopt a clear framework in regards to women accessing justice, we need more training, we need legal aid to be accessible and there needs to be more of it and lastly we need to make the courts a safer place for women to seek justice,” she said."

Legal aid in Malta is lacking compared to international standards, as less than 1c of every euro from the judicial system’s budget is spent on legal aid in Malta, the Council of Europe has found. This amounts to €175 per case and is available to those with an annual income of €736. In the EU, only Hungary spends less on legal aid.

Just over a half of Maltese women work outside the home, and one in five is under the risk of poverty and social exclusion, so even this minimal legal aid is essential for women seeking to leave abusive relationships.

According to Lara Dimitrijevic, who spoke at a conference organised by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality:

  • Legal aid wasn’t always available to women in cases of domestic violence, despite the requirement being set out in the Istanbul Convention;
  • Women are forced to share the same space as their aggressor as they wait outside the court room;
  • A lack of respect for the severity of the cases -- some survivors were asked by judges whether they wanted to drop their case;
  • Defence lawyers are not always respectful.
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