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Legal Aid Clinic
A brand new, free service from the Faculty of Law at UP is to be launched offering help to know your way around the labyrinth of legal issues. Dr. Adrián Fábián, head of department and deputy dean speaks about the new program which is the first of this kind of service in Hungary.
How did the idea of Legal Aid Clinic come into being?
The initiative is not completely new: there has been a Legal Clinic as a course at the Faculty of Law. Within its framework students gained practical insights into the everyday application of law from their mentors. It is an obligatory course and students love it for its practical aspects. Dr. Tibor Fűzy is the professional leader of the program. He and I tried to find out how we could reshape this course to make it beneficial for Hungarian and international students. This is how the Legal Aid Clinic was born: it offers help to international students by our students and their mentors. Our idea was also welcomed by the Centre for International Relation and the Directorate for Academic Affairs and we are more than thankful for their support. Thus we can try it out!
How do you involve Hungarian students?
We would like to open a dialogue between the international and Hungarian students. On the one hand, international students will get a detailed picture about Hungarian law and get solutions for their legal problems, while on the other hand our law students will get a chance to practice their foreign language skills and gain in-depth experiences about the practical side of the application of law. It is important to note, that it is not the students who will solve the cases. Their mentors, who are professional lawyers, are also on board and they won’t leave their students alone.
How can the Legal Aid Clinic be contacted?
You should inform us about your problem vie E-mail , but communication is also possible through the Centre for International Relation or through the Directorate for Academic Affairs. As soon as we get in touch we begin to work on the solution. It depends on the difficulty of the case whether an e-mail would be enough to solve the problem or not.
What kind of cases do you expect?
We expect cases about administration and civil law, especially in the context of residence and housing, but as for me, I suppose more difficult consumer problems may also occur. I hope I’m wrong but I anticipate infringements regarding the fact that international students have to get used to Hungarian standards which can be different than those of their home countries. I think of for example breach of peace.
The University of Pécs has a rapidly increasing number of international students. How many cases do you expect?
Not more than a few dozens during at the beginning. Two students will do the administrative work and coordinate the processes, they will not be able to handle thousands of cases. If there are too many problems we will have to reshape our service. Capacity-building requires further plans, because our mentors work with us pro bono, so it seems tome that pouring thousands of cases on them would be like abusing their generous offer.
I look forward to getting cases from those students who have come to Pécs recently.
How special is the Hungarian law compared to the legal systems other countries?
The basic legal institutions are quite similar, but there can be greater differences in the details. For example rental contracts are used in every country but its structure may be different. For example German law protects the person who lives in the apartment more than the one who owns it. So, a person who comes from Germany may have an concept about what it means to be a lodger, which might be misleading in Hungary and it can even be a source of a conflict. We also think of problems like handling a form written in Hungarian or having a conversation with an administrator who does not speak a foreign language.
Are the public institutions so unprepared for international students?
The Hungarian state apparatus and the Hungarian public administration system are not as prepared for foreigners as the universities themselves. In particular, you should note that Pécs and the other bigger university cities are in a unique situation because the other territorial units of Hungarian public administration do not meet as many foreigners as clients. I notice that they are trying and willing, and there is also the fact that those with tertiary qualifications must have an intermediate language exam. It is questionable, of course, how they can apply their language proficiency in a case and how they can make an international student understand the formal issues. It should be noted that providing support at a high level foreign language cannot be required in most cases. International students must be patient.
Is there a similar service elsewhere in Hungary?
The aforementioned Law Clinic is part of legal education, but I do not know whether it would have provided a service similar to our Legal Aid Clinic. I have no foreign examples either.
I must add that the beginning may be difficult as this will be the first semester of the Legal Aid Clinic. That is why we will be grateful for any feedback as we can learn from these and, if necessary, improve the service so we can be truly proud of the fact that the Faculty of Law is also involved in the internationalization process. We take this job very seriously and plan to provide this service for free for a long time in cooperation with our partners, including the Centre for International Relation and the Directorate for Academic Affairs.