In Turkey, while the provision of pro bono is in need for timely reform and regulation, there are several mechanisms that provide access to legal aid.
A legal aid office has been established to enable people in financial difficulties to exercise their right to a fair trial. Needy people who wish to assert their right to legal remedies may request legal aid from the provincial bar or the judicial authority by documenting that they are financially straitened.
In criminal cases, the defendant may request a lawyer at any phase in the court or from the prosecution office. In judicial processes for offences punishable with more than five years’ imprisonment, it is obligatory to appoint a lawyer for the defendant on request. If the defendant or suspect is a child, disabled or deaf-mute to the extent that self-defence is impossible, a lawyer is appointed regardless.
In these civil and criminal legal scenarios, the injured party claiming rights or defendants requiring assistance receive legal support free of charge, paid for by the government.
However, the legal and regulatory landscape is much murkier when it comes to the provision of pro bono advocacy services – giving legal assistance on a voluntary basis without fees.
In Turkey as a general rule it is prohibited to take on lawsuits free of charge. The bar must be notified about lawsuits that have been undertaken on a voluntary basis. Whether this process includes the legal counselling business other than lawsuits remains a matter of debate.
Another obstacle facing pro bono in Turkey is that lawyers cannot use the opportunity of pro bono work to publicise their work for the social good, because this is outlawed by advocacy legislation. That means pro bono must be handled delicately.
The legislation lacks satisfactory regulations regarding pro bono advocacy – though it should also be acknowledged that pro bono advocacy does not invite severe sanctions.
Bars, legal associations and NGOs are holding seminars and undertaking other initiatives to promote the concept of pro bono advocacy.
Given the historical context of pro bono, such work becomes a duty and even a passion for those lawyers who feel responsible for upholding the spirit of the profession of advocacy. We are confident that the future will bring better regulation of this work, bringing it and the outcomes it produces in line with the law.