Justice for the poor and justice in the street could be the motto of Defensorías Sociales, a social responsibility program created by Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Costa Rica.
Similar to U.S. legal aid societies, the organization was recently created in order to provide legal assistance for the most vulnerable citizens and residents in Costa Rica.
Last year, this program provided legal assistance to more than 10,443 people from low-income backgrounds with the help of 78 public defendors who donated their time and knowledge in the areas of family and labor law.
Out of those cases, 1,223 advanced investigations were opened and 844 hearings took place to settle most of the conflicts, according to Violenta Conejo, director of quality assurance and training at the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas.
“This initiative seeks to bring together lawyers and people who normally could not afford to pay the standard legal fees. The attorneys provide their time and expertise and we provide free training and seminars as a way to compensate for their willingness to help,” she said.
To get help from the Defensorías Sociales, there are some requirements to meet.
For one, the beneficiaries should not have property under their name. They should not have an income over 350,000 colones which is roughly $700. They cannot be employers of any kind. Lastly, they also should address their cases to the local Defensoría closest to their place of residence.
“A great percentage of our cases have to do with women seeking protection from domestic abusers, followed by people who claimed they’ve been fired by employers while pregnant or being member of a union. We also see a significant amount of cases related to child support requests,” said Ms. Conejo.
Aside from the Defensorías Sociales, the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas also takes its services to communities through the program Derecho en la Calle, which targets mostly students and local associations.
During these activities, the lawyers talk to students about bullying and what are their rights and their duties in such a situation.
“We look to provide information for women about how to deal with violence or help someone who is in that situation,” explained Ms. Conejo, “We also go to retirement homes and some town fairs in areas that we consider vulnerable.”
There are currently 13 Defensorías Sociales with the newest one opening in Puntarenas back in 2016.