Tue, Feb 01, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Pro bono work `helped thousands'

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Legal Aid Foundation yesterday reviewed its number of pro bono cases last year.

"Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2004, the foundation had helped 3,843 individuals with legal services," said Jerry Cheng (鄭文龍), the foundation's general secretary.

The figure did not include legal consultations, only the number of cases which involved filing actual litigation.

The high number of cases was unseen before in free legal services provided by government or other entities.

"On average, a government body handles about 580 cases for free every year, where only legal counseling is offered to clients, but not assistance with the actual legal procedures," said Joseph Lin (林永頌), chairman of the foundation's Taipei branch.

Out of 6,250 applications that were filed for legal assistance with the foundation, 3,843 were approved.

At present the foundation has 10 branches across the country:Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Hualien, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Changhwa, Yilian and Taitung.

The majority of the foundation's legal-assistance applicants were the underprivileged.

Thirty-six percent were women, 8 percent senior citizens, 5 percent laborers, 3 percent minors, 2 percent Aboriginals, 2 percent the disabled and 2 percent foreign citizens. Forty-two percent were average citizens.

During the six-month period, 2,879 applicants involved civil cases and 1,290 criminal cases; the rest involve marriages, family relations, traffic accidents, injuries and labor rights.

According to the foundation, there are a total of 4,914 attorneys-at-law in Taiwan. Last year, 1,280 volunteered to participate in pro bono cases through the foundation. The number of volunteering lawyers continues to rise.

The future goal of the foundation is to further promote its services among minority groups. The foundation also plans to evaluate the quality of its volunteering lawyers and receive feedbacks from its clients.

Furthermore, the foundation is holding a three-day international conference in October, where foreign legal experts will be invited to speak about their personal experiences.

"We hope to move forward into the international meet. This kind of conference will help provide us with an opportunity to hear about other people's experiences," Cheng said.

Through the services of the foundation, a battered wife managed to divorce her abusive husband and gain the custody of their children.

Last June, this woman, under the assumed name "Mei-hua," saw a TV advertisement about the foundation.

Mei-hua, who had been married for over a decade, applied for legal assistance and her application was approved in early July. Before seeking help from the foundation, her one-year-long divorce battle was put off due to the mounting legal fees.

Three months after the foundation had stepped in to help Mei-hua's case, the court approved her divorce and gave her custody of her children.

"Women in the same boat should step out and seek help," Mei-hua said.

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