Ethiopia has a population of almost 90 million people and spans over a vast territory in Eastern Africa. Although being one of the poorest countries in the world Ethiopia aspires to reform its legal system. Its leaders embrace modern managerial approaches such as Balanced scorecards and Business process re-engineering. The country is also a good example in smart computerization of courts as well as other justice sector institutions.
There are many challenges, however. Adem Kasse, senior researcher at the institute of International Peace and Rule of Law of the Max Planck Foundation at the University of Heidlberg reviews some of them. Slow and unpredictable court procedures clearly violate the right to timely access to justice. Another is the lack of mechanisms to guarantee access to justice in administrative cases. Kasse points to the influence of the administrative agencies on the lives of many people in Ethiopia:
“Administrative bodies give directives and make decisions that affect millions of people every day.”
Many aspects of the work of the administrative agencies are governed not by the law but by institutional culture. These practices often fall outside the formal remedies that guarantee that the executive agencies abide to the rule of law. In Ethiopia the institution of the Ombudsman is getting established but it is still far away from being an effective remedy in all cases in which the citizens and organizations are in a conflict with administrative agencies. As Kasse points out there is no baseline study to assess the depth and impact of the problems with access to justice in these cases.
Read more about about access to justice in Ethiopia here
Malaysian law firm Bon Advocates prepares to develop mobile app for legal documents. It aims to help the users with basic documents such as sales and purchase agreements, wills, divorce petitions and bail applications. Next year the DIY law app should be ready for the public.
The legal profession, however, is concerned. “I think it’s a bit reckless, if you don’t know your rights, and you start doing these things on your own because you won’t know the implications and ramifications” said Ragunath Kesavan from the Bar Council.
A criminal lawyer is worried about lay people’s understanding of the various offences and procedural intricacies: “A lay person will not be able to appreciate the distinctions. Even some lawyers get such distinctions mixed up. And in pleading guilty and doing mitigation, does a layperson know the legal consequences of pleading guilty? Would a layperson know what is the sentencing pattern of a particular offence?”
Read more about the Malaysian access to justice app and the controversies around it here.
President Zuma of South Africa calls for more access to justice and diversity in the legal profession
South African President, Jacob Zuma, called for measures which can ensure the poor access to justice in the country which is torn by social conflicts. At the general meeting of the Johannesburg Attorney Association he declared:
“We are all seized with the matter of how to make our courts more accessible to the poor. Simply put, how do we make it easy for people who live far from the cities or who cannot afford to pay for justice, to obtain justice.”
Furthermore, Zuma cited some worrying proportions. Of the 2384 members of the Bar 1733 (73%) are white. Only 24% are female. Out of the 21,007 practising attorneys 13,643 (65%) are white.
Read more about Jacob Zuma and access to justice here
My fellow bloger Richard Zorza from the inspirational accesstojustice.net blog has brought to my attention a succinct depiction of the direct and indirect benefits of civil legal aid. The analysis has been prepared by the Laura K. Abel from the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School. Briefly, the value of civil legal aid delivered to people who cannot afford to procure legal services from the free market comes to:
– Savings of public money by reduction of domestic violence. Requests for protective orders within the serviced area fall by 35.2%. Less public money is spent on medical care, special education for affected children and police and prisons resources devoted to perpetrators;
– Savings of public money by helping children leave foster care more quickly. “In Washington State, the rate at which children were reunited with their parents was 11% higher when the parents were represented by lawyers whose caseloads were kept to a manageable level than when the parents were represented by high-volume contract attorneys.”;
– Savings of public money by reducing evictions. Tenants who are represented are significantly more likely to retain possession. In 2009-2010 New York state saved $116 million in shelter costs’;
– Savings of public money by protecting patients’ health. Civil legal aid helped patients of asthma improve their housing conditions which allowed them to stop taking steroids for about 6 months. Others were helped with health insurance, disability benefits or alleviation of health-related job discrimination;
– Savings through helping low-income people participate in safety-net programs. In 2011 the federal benefits awarded to beneficiaries of civil legal aid totalled to $348 million.
Download the Economic Benefits of Civil Legal Aid from here
Since 2008 the Argentinian government is experimenting with opening legal aid centres in a couple of “villas” – slum neighbourhoods. Up to now about about 40 such centres have been established and deliver legal services to immigrants, victims of domestic violence and other people in need. According to a study of the National Office for the Promotion and Strengthening of Access to Justice these centres provided assistance in more than 150 000 cases. Issuing documents to migrants, helping ex-convicts re-integrate in the society, help for battered women are some of the most frequently sought services. As one staff-member of the centres shares:
“Many of the situations can be solved by picking up the telephone.”
Read more about the legal aid centres in Argentina here.
UN Special Rapporteur: “The rule of law is meaningless for people living in poverty without effective access to justice”
Less than a week before the UN high-level meeting on the Rule of Law, Magdalena Sepúlveda, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, emphasized on the importance of access to justice. In her recent report Dr. Sepúlveda claims that ““The rule of law is meaningless for people living in poverty without effective access to justice, which is a human right in itself, and essential for tackling poverty”. Furthermore, she urges the UN member states to take measures and guarantee that “poverty is never a barrier to enjoying the benefits of the rule of law”. To achieve this goals the report recommends bold steps towards securing access to justice for the poorest and most marginalised individuals and groups.
Read here more about the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and access to justice