In the Czech Republic, the right to legal assistance in court proceedings, or before other state bodies and public authorities, is guaranteed under the country’s constitutionally enshrined Charter of Fundamental Rights. Despite this, the Czech Republic has yet to adopt a comprehensive law on pro bono legal services. This means that such legal services remain regulated via a patchwork of procedural acts as well as via the Advocacy Act (1996).
Presently, the provision of pro bono legal services under the aforementioned procedural acts is primarily dependant on the applicant’s financial circumstances. If an applicant cannot afford such services, the court may – and must in the case of criminal proceedings – appoint a legal representative ex officio, meaning “by virtue”, at the state’s expense.
Individuals who, for whatever reason, are ineligible to receive legal aid from court-appointed lawyers, and who nonetheless find themselves in difficult legal predicaments and are unable to cover the costs of the required aid, can ask the Czech Bar Association to appoint qualified lawyers to provide services for a reduced fee, or free of charge. Besides appointing lawyers for particular cases, the Czech Bar Association also organises the provision of basic pro bono legal advice for those in need. This type of service is generally provided via short 30-minute meetings during which lawyers provide the given individuals an initial overview of their rights and obligations in their respective cases.
Despite certain recent developments – for example Czech MPs voting on an amendment to the regulation of legal services, and efforts to introduce draft laws concerning the regulation of pro bono legal aid – legal commentators largely agree that the current situation in the Czech Republic remains unsatisfactory. Which means that until comprehensive legislation on pro bono legal services is adopted, individuals in need must rely on lawyer-based initiatives offering free services, or on non-profit organisations that cooperate with law firms or with individual lawyers.