Court sets important precedent: asylum seekers may choose their defense attorney

The Supreme Administrative Court has set an important precedent. Reviewing an appeal case in late December, it ruled that in future foreign nationals seeking asylum in the Czech Republic should be allowed to pick their defense attorney rather than have one appointed for them.

It was a decision that many asylum seekers had been praying for. In the past their defense lawyer was allotted to them by the respective court and paid for by the state. The recent ruling by the Supreme Administrative court means that they will now be free to choose a lawyer they trust and one who preferably speaks their language, with expenses still covered by the state.

Pavel Čižinský, a lawyer from the Citizens Advice Bureau, explains why this decision is so important.

“First, the problem is that not many lawyers really deal with asylum law so it often happened that an attorney was selected who did not have much experience in this field. Secondly, the majority of selected attorneys are somehow reluctant to really fight for a foreign client. They often share the slightly xenophobic view of the public that we should be cautious with respect to foreigners. And, of course, there are language problems because not many attorneys happen to speak the language in which their client is able to communicate. Consequently, direct communication between the attorney and his client was often impossible or complicated, at best. So I think that this is a very good decision by the Supreme Administrative Court because in legal matters trust and a personal relationship between the attorney and his client are always very, very important.”

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission The court’s decision is expected to not only provide proper access to justice for asylum seekers but should also boost the position of lawyers specializing in asylum law and draw more dedicated experts into the field. Hereto there have been cases of lawyers not wanting to work on asylum-related cases and lodging complaints against their nomination. For the dozens of families waiting to plead their case the chance to choose a dedicated lawyer who wants to represent them could mean the difference between winning or loosing the opportunity to build a new life in this country.