More and more Icelandic lawyers no longer offer their services to asylum seekers, because of the latter’s inability to pay their bills, Fréttablaðið reports. Free legal aid from the Icelandic Treasury is repeatedly denied, despite complaints sent to the Ministry of the Interior from the Red Cross and the Icelandic Bar Association. Official letters from the Red Cross have not been answered by the ministry.
The Red Cross handles the affairs of asylum seekers until a decision has been made regarding their cases. Once an application for asylum has been rejected, an asylum seeker may wish to take the decision to court in hopes of it being overturned. At that stage, the Red Cross legal aid ends and asylum seekers must find their own lawyer.
According to Fréttablaðið, only one lawyer remains ready to take on such cases for a minimal fee or free of charge. Others are not ready to work pro bono.
Björn Teitsson, public relations officer at the Red Cross, stated, “Because free legal aid from the Icelandic Treasury is usually denied, asylum seekers have a very limited chance to get a lawyer, unless lawyers take on the cases pro bono, or negotiate something else.”
Reimar Pétursson, head of the Icelandic Bar Association, said lawyers are of the opinion that too few applications for free legal aid are accepted, and those which are accepted are inadequately compensated for. “It’s a basic rule that people should enjoy realistic solutions to bring their cases to court. Asylum seekers are a severely disadvantaged group, because these are rarely people who can afford legal aid, but who have great interests at stake in the conclusion of these cases.” In many cases, he added, it seems natural that they get their cost paid from the state treasury to enjoy realistic judicial remedies.
On the other hand, Reimar pointed out that private lawyers, too, need to feed their families, which explains why they won’t work for free.