When a child is denied access to school, or an ailing person is shut out of a hospital, the media are quick to expose the injustice. Denial of health care or an education is unthinkable for most Canadians, yet access to justice, particularly for non−criminal issues, is out of reach for millions in this country, and for billions of people worldwide. Despite the vital need of legal assistance to protect human rights, its absence is rarely remarked upon, its inaccessibility considered merely regrettable.
Legal aid is chronically underfunded in Canada and globally. Traditionally, countries have not invested enough in access to justice in their national plans and budgets, or in international aid to developing countries. From 2005 to 2013, only 1.8 per cent of aid globally was devoted to justice. Much of that support focused on state institutions in only a small number of countries, largely omitting civil society organizations and their efforts to improve accessibility.
Securing access to justice is integral to development, whether related to health, land, agricultural reforms, urban upgrading and infrastructure, or financial opportunities.
Through our respective organizations work, we regularly see the power of basic legal assistance for people living under the most precarious conditions.
In times of humanitarian crisis, simple legal challenges are often overlooked, but their urgency is amplified. This is the case in Jordan, where legal support for Syrian refugees helps families navigate the challenges of obtaining basic documentation, including proof of university studies, which is required for employment.
Frontline justice workers in West Africa are helping communities preserve their livelihoods and cultural ways of life by protecting their land rights. Clan elders in Duah, Liberia, agreed to a potentially devastating land deal with a local investor without consulting the community or its land governance council. However, by employing their recently adopted community by−laws, residents managed to hold their leaders accountable and successfully reversed the land deal.
The demand for access to justice is apparent, and now there is hope that it will gain the attention it deserves. For the first time, governments the world over have committed to ensuring access to justice in all countries and for all people under the new UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Providing ordinary citizens with a means to exercise their rights will require greater commitment and co−ordination from national governments and donors. Access to justice components should be included in the efforts of other agencies focused on areas such as health, education, and urban upgrading, to ensure the protection of rights from the outset. This would also be a way to pool much−needed funding across agencies for access to justice efforts.
Currently, there is relatively little tracking of people’s legal needs around the world and few mechanisms to evaluate the cost and effectiveness of different types of legal services. Governments will have to invest more to understand legal challenges faced on a daily basis, and the most direct way to address people’s needs with scarce budgets.
A legal empowerment approach which moves away from courts and litigation to focus instead on people’s ability to resolve problems, often with front−line assistance from non−lawyers, or community legal advocates has proven a cost−effective way to scale up legal services and to give people much−needed access to their rights.
Justice providers of all stripes will need to adopt a greater entrepreneurial spirit. Lawyers and legal bars, for instance, can play a crucial role in ensuring access to justice for all by supporting new and innovative ways to fund services.
Canada can play a unique leadership role in making the universal commitment to access to justice real, both at home and abroad. Canada has a strong tradition and reputation for human rights promotion and respect for the rule of law, of which access to justice is a key ingredient.
As Global Affairs Canada undertakes the current review of international assistance priorities, there is no better time to reaffirm those commitments, politically and financially. Canada has many important lessons to share across provinces and with other countries about scaling up access to justice. Some of the toughest issues, such as the chronic challenges of reaching remote and excluded groups like Canada’s indigenous and northern populations, could ultimately be the source of greatest insight.
By Adrian Di Giovanni, senior program specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Centre; Vivek Maru, chief executive officer of Namati; and Lotta Teale, managing policy officer at Open Society Justice Initiative.
This article was first published on June 29, 2016 in The Hill Times.
For more information on the challenges and solutions of bringing access to justice to scale, watch this conversation with Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, and Attorney General for Sierra Leone, Joseph Kamara, moderated by CBC’s National Parliamentary Bureau reporter Alison Crawford.
Video courtesy of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
Last updated January 30, 2013.
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Last updated: May 25, 2018
This Policy describes our privacy practices and sets out your obligations and ours with respect to your use of the Site and the Forum. This Policy applies only to the Site and the Forum and does not necessarily apply to our offline collection of information.
Namati may collect and retain two types of information about Site and Forum visitors: (i) personal information that individual visitors voluntarily provide when interacting on the Site or Forum or on certain other occasions (such as via forms or in emails); and (ii) tracking data, which is data that is automatically collected from every Site and Forum visitor as they use and browse the site.
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We retain the right to transfer or assign all information pursuant to a merger, purchase or other transaction relating to Namati or our assets.
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The Forum uses data about your posts and other activity to make automated decisions about whether your posts are spam.
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From time to time, we may email users of the Site or the Forum information regarding important developments affecting Namati and/or the Global Legal Empowerment Network. We may also email users on occasion regarding the Site or the Forum. Such emails may be sent to users of the Site or Forum even if they have not requested to receive any communication from us.
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We reserve the right to disclose any information to comply with any law, regulation, decree, judgment, order, subpoena or any other governmental order (“Order”) without any obligation to contest or verify the accuracy of such Order.
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The section titles in this Policy are for convenience only and have no legal or contractual effect.
The Site, the Forum, and any third party services they use, may be subject to additional terms and conditions regarding privacy and use of information. Your use of the Site and the Forum is subject to those terms and conditions, which are incorporated into this Policy by reference. In the event of an inconsistency between this Policy and any additional posted conditions, the provisions of the additional conditions shall control.
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Namati Data Protection Officer
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Washington, DC 20036, USA
If you live in a country which has adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (EU; 2016/679), you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application.
The Policy was updated in May 2018 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.