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Legal Aid Volunteer Corps to Expand

In the next two years, China will build up the legal aid volunteer program it launched in 11 provinces and municipalities across the country on a trial basis last year, Zhang Shi, an official with the Legal Aid Center of the Ministry of Justice, said on Monday.

"Legal assistance needs support from volunteers. To mobilize the public to participate in legal aid is one of this year's working targets," said Zhang.

Those who are disadvantaged -- particularly women, senior citizens and children -- can get help from legal aid for free or at a reduced cost.

Zhang said that China must improve three main areas to make its legal aid system effective: more convenient registration for volunteers, a well-organized and trained volunteer team and new programs.

"We are thinking of sending volunteers to the counties where there are no legal professionals at all to offer consultation," he said.

According to Zhang, there are more than 200 counties in China that have no legal professionals at all.

The majority of the current legal aid volunteers are working lawyers who are able to provide legal advice and representation to low-income citizens. But the program also welcomes many others. Notaries, paralegals, law school students and professionals holding lawyers' licenses and retired legal workers can all provide valuable assistance.

Zhang noted that people who publicize the service as well as those who donate or raise funds are also legal aid volunteers.

When the pilot program was launched last year, thousands of volunteers signed up at local legal aid centers. In Nanjing, the capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, the legal aid center has recruited about 2,000 volunteers so far.

Still, according to Lin Shengguang, an official with the center, many other types of professionals are needed, especially physicians and volunteers who can communicate in sign language.

(China Daily February 22, 2005)

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