Lithuanian lawyers are considering to temporarily suspend free legal aid, saying the state owes them over half a million euros for their legal services.
The Council of the Lithuanian Bar Association is calling an extraordinary meeting on October 31 to discuss the proposal, the association said in a statement on Friday.
The suspension would make most pre-trial investigation procedures, such as arrests, arrest warrant extensions or interrogations impossible and would significantly hamper courts' work, it said.
A total of 553 lawyers currently provide state-guaranteed legal aid services.
Lawyers say the state-guaranteed legal aid budget was cut to 3.7 million euros this year, from 4.5 million euros in 2018.
The number of cases, meanwhile, increased from 42,000 to 50,000. While the per-hour cost of a lawyer's work stands at 13 euros before tax (six euros after tax and other costs), a lawyer receives a mere 120 euros before tax per case, according to the statement.
“Inadequate budget planning by the Justice Ministry has led to a massive delay in payments to lawyers providing secondary legal aid,” it reads.
“Although some of the debt to lawyers was covered from the government reserve and budget appropriations to the Justice Ministry, the debt increased.”
This year's state budget earmarked around 3.8 million euros for state-guaranteed (secondary) legal aid, but costs incurred in the January 13 case resulted in a debt.
In early September, the government allocated 350,000 euros from its reserve fund to pay the defence lawyers of defendants in the mass trial related to the January 1991 crackdown on Lithuania's independence movement.
The Lithuanian Bar Association estimates that the state owed lawyers a total of 568,000 euros for state-guaranteed legal aid as of late September.