Lawyers will be able to charge Holocaust survivors no more than NIS 6,583 for processing compensation claims, about half the standard payment until now, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman decided yesterday.
Neeman's decision marks the successful conclusion of a battle waged by the Finance Ministry's Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority against what it deemed excessive legal fees.
The issue arose in April, when the government decided that Jews who suffered persecution in occupied Libya during the Holocaust would also be eligible for compensation under a law to compensate victims of the Nazis. Subsequently, the authority received some 5,000 compensation applications.
About 95 percent of them were submitted via lawyers, though in fact, no lawyer is necessary: The application only requires filling out a simple form, and the authority provides free assistance to applicants who need it.
Under the new regulation signed by the justice minister yesterday, lawyers' fees for filing these claims will now be limited to NIS 6,583 plus value-added tax. The new rule takes effect in 14 days.
"This is a positive step," said Noach Flug, chairman of the umbrella association of survivors' groups. "The lawyers did important work, but there were also sometimes things that didn't need a lawyer for which they still charged money - and more than a little."
Credit to Ross
Flug gave particular credit for the achievement to Ofra Ross, who heads the survivors rights authority. "She convinced the Justice Ministry to limit the fees," he said. "We convinced the government that there was a Holocaust in Libya, and there are several thousand former Libyans who will now receive stipends without having to pay exaggerated sums to lawyers."
Ross, for her part, thanked Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) for his efforts on the matter.
"This is an important step that I personally welcome," she said. "This represents the beginnings of a proper balance between the unique characteristics of the population of elderly survivors with whom we deal and the fees to which attorneys are entitled for their work. It's clear to us that the attorneys, like us, are sensitive to this population and its unique characteristics."
By law, lawyers are entitled to charge up to 8 percent of the total compensation their client will receive over the next five years, plus another 15 percent of any retroactive payments. Thus for an applicant who received the minimum payment, an attorney could charge a fee of NIS 10,930 just for filling out a simple form. The average fee lawyers have charged applicants to date has been around NIS 12,000.
The treasury estimates that total payments to the approximately 5,000 claimants will run to around NIS 110 million.
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