Brazilian Lawyers and the Role of a Public Defender
The Federal Constitution of Brazil requires complete legal representation free of charge to the poor. As such, one of the most important roles Brazilian lawyers can play is that of a public defender. Public defender offices are operated by the state and are located throughout the country.
The idea of a public defender first came about in 1897 when a decree establishing free legal aid to the poor was established in the Federal District, which at the time included the city of Rio de Janeiro. However, it wasn’t until 1937 when a new Constitution was enacted that the concept of assistência jurídica (legal assistance) was extended to the entire country.
Unlike in the United States, public defenders are not just limited to representing individuals accused of crimes. They also practice in a number of other areas of law including family law, human rights, civil law and child adolescent law.
To receive assistance, a Brazilian citizen must formally declare that he or she is indigent and unable to pay attorney fees. Legal assistance is not limited to just representation by an attorney, as Brazilian citizens may also receive funding for expert witnesses, court costs and other miscellaneous fees related to litigation.
To become a public defender, an attorney must have at least two years of experience in the practice of law. A rigorous testing process is also used in order to select only attorneys with a certain amount of expertise. Once selected, attorneys are required to act objectively and to serve the best interests of those they are assigned to help.
Although Brazilian public defenders provide a host of services to indigent citizens, some of Brazil’s poorest regions have yet to establish a public defender’s office. Since the Brazilian government is committed to making sure that everyone has adequate legal representation, there is hope of that changing in the years to come.