Free legal aid for poor expats has few takers

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Free legal aid for poor expats has few takers

A legal aid system for low-income foreigners has been running for a year, but not many people know about it and it’s barely being used.

Grand National Party Representative Lee Jung-hyun, who is a member of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said at a parliamentary audit that no foreigner has sought legal aid at the Seoul Central District Court over the past year. There are around 30 lawyers standing by to help foreigners, he said.

Two other courts in Seoul have assisted foreigners, but not many.

The legal aid system for foreigners, introduced in September 2010, offers the services of state lawyers for low-income foreigners.

The lawyers, who specialize in wage disputes, refugee status applications and divorces, help the foreigners for free.

The Seoul Family Court assigned 72 lawyers to cases for foreigners, but they worked on only 22 cases over the past year, the lawmaker said. The lawyers speak English, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Russian. The Seoul Administrative Court was busier with 116 cases of foreigners seeking legal aid. That court has 23 lawyers.

Lee said low public awareness of the system was the problem, although plenty of migrant workers and foreign spouses need legal assistance. There is no budget to publicize the system, he said. “Each court should be actively involved in making the legal aid program for foreigners more successful,” said Lee.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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