It has been a long-standing principle of the Organization that staff members (including former staff members or affected dependants of staff members) who wish to appeal an administrative decision, or who are subject to disciplinary action, should have access to legal advice and representation. For this purpose, the UN General Assembly established the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA), staffed by full-time legal officers at UN Headquarters in New York, and in Addis Ababa, Beirut, Geneva and Nairobi. OSLA replaces the former Panel of Counsel, although its functions are similar.

OSLA legal officers or volunteers providing legal advice are expected to abide by a code of conduct, and may not seek or accept any material reward or benefit from clients or other parties (other than their UN salary, in the case of OSLA Legal Officers) for their service as counsel.

Staff members may arrange legal advice from non-OSLA counsel including serving or former staff members, or from outside legal counsel of their choice at their own expense. Staff may also choose to represent themselves (pro se) in proceedings within the UN system of administrative justice (see staff rules 10.3 (a) and 11.4 (d)).

At any stage of a dispute, or even in anticipation of a dispute, a staff member may seek advice from OSLA. OSLA legal officers and volunteers can advise on the legal merits of a case and what options the staff member might have. If a staff member chooses to proceed with a case in the formal system, OSLA will assess whether it can be of assistance and, if so, will provide legal advice and/or representation throughout the process under the terms set out in the OSLA consent form signed by the concerned staff member.

Staff Legal assistance: some options

The Staff Council has been considering various options to provide adequate legal representation to staff and would like to have the view of staff on the options outlined below:

  1. Request Member States for more resources for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA) that currently has no representation in Vienna;
  2. Negotiate with the Administration at global level a minimum deduction from the salary of every staff to be deposited into the Trust Fund established by OSLA. This would be some sort of legal insurance paid by all staff. Alternatively, the Staff Union could contribute to the Trust Fund through its own resources but there will be the need to guarantee that the legal services will be provided only to contributing members of the Union. Both options will require staff interests to be represented in the management of the Fund;
  3. Establish legal insurance in Vienna with a private firm and establish criteria for dues-paying staff to have legal representation through a private lawyer.
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